The father of Martin Richard stood before more than 300 eighth-graders Saturday afternoon and asked if they remembered where they were when the Boston Marathon bombings happened.
Every hand went up.
“Yeah, me too,” said Bill Richard, during his keynote speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum Saturday afternoon at the end of Project 351’s annual Day of Service. The eighth-graders had just completed volunteer work in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Richard’s family was at the marathon’s finish line when the bombs exploded. His youngest son, 8-year-old Martin, was killed and his daughter, Jane, lost a leg in the bombings. His wife, Denise, lost an eye, and he suffered burns and a ruptured eardrum. His oldest son, Henry, was not physically injured.
Richard proceeded to tell the children a story about Martin’s generosity when the family stopped at a Boylston Street Starbucks on the day he died.
“True to character, we got our order, and Martin asked his mom for the change,” said Richard. “God as my witness, he went outside and gave it to a man holding a sign and a cup.”
Richard said his son told the man, “I don’t know about the food, but my mom gets coffee here all the time, so I’m guessing it’s pretty good.”
As the students made a noise somewhere between a gasp and a heartbroken chuckle, Richard said, “It’s okay, it’s a funny story. You can laugh.”
Earlier in the day, Jane, now 10, stood onstage with her parents at Faneuil Hall for the launching of the Day of Service and offered advice to the eighth-graders: “Don’t judge a book by its cover, and if you get to know someone and understand them, you’ll build bridges.”
The students who participated in Project 351 hailed from almost every one of the state’s 351 cities and towns, and almost none of them had ever been to the presidential library before. Following the morning’s ceremony at Faneuil Hall, they fanned out over Boston and performed volunteer work at sites such as the Pine Street Inn and the Greater Boston Food Bank.
The Richard family has been longtime supporters of Project 351, according to Charlie Rose, an “honorary dean” of the program.
Bill Richard said the program’s mission — to empower youth through service — reflected the values of his younger son, who was famously photographed holding a homemade sign that read, “No more hurting people. Peace.”
Proceeds from Project 351’s upcoming “Peace & Unity Walk” fund-raiser will help the Martin Richard Foundation establish Martin’s Park in the Seaport, he said.
As Richard spoke to the eighth-graders Saturday, he noted how President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter early Saturday morning to criticize Georgia Democratic Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis, who had called Trump an “illegitimate” president and refused to attend the inauguration.
Trump tweeted that the congressman “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to ... mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”
“[Trump] put down an entire district for the comments of one person,” said Richard to the children.
Richard said his wife had to deal recently with a “difficult person.” She wrote an e-mail to the person, but deleted it before pressing “send” — which, he said, was the perfect decision.
He advised the students in the room “not to react so quickly when someone says something you may not agree with ... think before you ‘send.’ ”
Richard ended with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ ”
Nicole Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.