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April 11, 2023

Rep. Pressley’s Remarks at Mel King’s Funeral Service

“Mel was always challenging and creating a new frame, writing a new blueprint. He was a master quilter too, always weaving a new tapestry.”

“Black men, you deserve to grow old. And I thank God, Mel King grew old. Yet even in the twilight of his life, he never waned.

Video (YouTube)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) delivered heartfelt remarks honoring the late Mel King at his funeral service at the Union United Methodist Church in Boston.

A video of her full remarks can be found here and the transcript is available below.

Transcript: Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s Remarks at Mel King’s Funeral Service

Union United Methodist Church

April 11, 2023

Any of you grow up with a praying grandmother? Sometimes you would just catch them humming, holding themselves, rocking.

I feel our grandmothers, our ancestors, all around.

I hear a hum of, “Is my living in vain?” And in this moment, we consistently reply, “No. Of course not.”

Good afternoon beloveds and thank you. Thank you Union United Methodist, thank you Pastor Jay, this ministerial staff. Thank you for welcoming us all to this sacred place. To this sacred land. To this sacred moment.

Thank you to all who labored to make it possible. We know that many hands make for light work. And people toiled into the night and labored for hours to make it so. And we thank you so that today we could come together for a homegoing befitting the legacy of Mel King and to honor his family–his partner Joyce, his incredible children Pamela, Judith, Nancy, Melvin Jr., Michael and Jomo, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I thank you my fellow elected officials, and community leaders, and members, clergy, who have gathered today to speak and celebrate the legacy of our beloved Mel King. It is a humbling honor to be invited to offer some reflections while we offer a well-deserved love letter to the bottomless well of love and justice that is Mel King. 

How appropriate that on this day, our opening hymn in this community  celebration and tribute was the Negro National Anthem, selected with intention – like all things Mel King.  We sang this song in tribute to this son of the South End, this child of the West Indies, a proud Black man, a liberator of the oppressed. “Lift EVERY voice and sing!” 

True indeed, this was the life’s work of Melvin Herbert King and the movement for which he was a visionary architect. Founder of The Rainbow Coalition, a movement which sought to build a society, “where all the tribes are welcome and all the gifts are shared.” A movement that has shaped our city and nation for the better.

He organized daily for a society where one job is enough, everyone has a home, is valued by their community, there is no such thing as an illegal person, education is equitable, history’s account is accurate, quality healthcare is accessible, a society where every person knows true peace, the peace that comes from a peace of mind that comes from their humanity seen, and your dignity centered, where your talents are harnessed, your aspirations met, where every voice is “heard” and lifted. 

Mel was an architect, a master builder.

I was watching some of his old interviews and I love how when the journalist would ask a question, on more than one occasion he would say “I want to challenge your frame.”

Mel was always challenging and creating a new frame, writing a new blueprint. He was a master quilter too, always weaving a new tapestry.

Black men, you deserve to grow old. And I thank God, Mel King grew old. Yet even in the twilight of his life, he never waned.

He was always seeding an idea, imparting a lesson, passing along insight.

He saw the beauty, the genius, the power in each and every person. And by building and harnessing that collective power, Mel wove together threads into a tapestry of legislative, socio-political and cultural change.

At his core, Mel King was a humble and generous humanist. A deep well of knowledge, truth, wisdom and love. A well I am certain that runs to the deepest parts of the earth and will never run dry. A well that has renewed and fortified each of us.

I draw strength from Mel daily, a practice that will continue all the years of my life as I raise a family, craft a bill, lend a hand or raise my voice.

When I close my eyes and I think of Mel, I can hear freedom songs, thousands of footsteps marching, ancestors crying out, calling us to action, to mobilize multi-racial masses in the work of liberation and justice.

When close my eyes, I can hear jazz because Mel was jazz. Cool, distinctive, disruptive, yet disciplined.

When I think of Mel, in my mind’s eye, I see a towering, elegant Black man outfitted in a bow tie or a dashiki or a T-shirt reminding us of our collective responsibility to dismantle mass incarceration and “Boycott Jail.” 

I see Mel clad in overalls and a bucket hat. I see him in the embrace of community, surrounded by the people, sharing a laugh or passionately discussing an idea with a community member, usually a young person. 

When I close my eyes, I can feel the warmth of his kitchen at a Sunday brunch. I can feel his hugs, and the acceptance and community so many of us found in both.

And in my recollections of Mel King, I always…always see Joyce, his brilliant, beautiful and dedicated partner – his co-conspirator in building community, joy, power and creating change.

Just like the other Kings who called Boston home, yet another demonstration of the power of love, of Black love, of the power of Black radical love – like Martin and Coretta – to birth movements and future generations of leaders.

Now I don’t know about you but I imagine the same is true, whenever I was in conversation with Mel – and I do mean, every single time – I was malleable, impressionable, a porous vessel. Whatever I had been taught, learned or observed on a subject – more often than not – was delicately disproven.

He schooled you but he didn’t make you feel badly about it.

When we spoke by phone, he respectfully challenged any hesitancy on my part at his proposals – really directives and he had both in spades in our phone calls. Not because he knew it all or was uncompromising, but because he was a critical thinker, a brilliant strategist, and he always did his homework. 

Mel, he parsed his words, because each word mattered and was carefully chosen. He wasted nothing. Not words or time. 

Mel didn’t see limits or walls or consider any ideal unattainable or a diminishing pursuit, instead he saw any step towards a more ‘humanized society’ as an inherent birthright, one worth fighting for and that all people deserved. 

Melvin Herbert King has transitioned. He is an ancestor now. But the truth of the matter is, Mel King has always been a man that transcended. He transcended walls, geography, space.

He emerged earthside cloaked in the divinity of purpose. 

May his example be a call to action, to fight longer, to think more deeply and to love harder.

Thank you to the King family for sharing Mel with all of us. His memory will forever nourish the earth we tread. His words will guide us on our path to justice. 

And today he wears an eternal crown befitting the king he was.

Rest in power.