UEP Tribute to Mel King

(This post was first posted on Penn Loh’s blog: Practical Visionaries: A Space for Sharing Stories of Transformation)

Mel King was the consummate practical visionary. On March 28, 2023, the world lost Mel at age 94. He was a friend, partner, collaborator, and inspiration to many of us at Tufts Department of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP). We last hosted Mel at Tufts on October 10, 2012 for a forum entitled Building Community Power. While many know of his historic run for Mayor in 1983 with the Rainbow Coalition, Mel had a vision for justice and sustainability that he built towards as an organizer, state legislator, mentor, teacher, youth worker, community-builder, and public intellectual.

His life’s work spanned many movements across the spectrum of urban, social, and environmental policy and planning. He fought for civil rights and education justice for Boston’s Black community. He fought against gentrification and displacement and for affordable housing. He helped support urban farming efforts in the 1970s and was a founding member of the Urban Farming Institute of Boston. He was among the signatories of the letter to the Big 10 environmental groups in 1990, which helped galvanize the national environmental justice movement in the US. 

The list of his achievements goes on and on. But Mel did not relish individual accolades. He always thought of himself as a community member. He emphasized the importance of love and care for one another. As a founding board member of the Center for Economic Democracy (where I am still a board member), Mel hosted us at his South End Technology Center, feeding us with the always plentiful food that he kept on hand.

We at Tufts UEP mourn his loss and celebrate his life by carrying on his practical visionary work.

Below, I repost part of the blog article that I wrote on Mel’s 2012 event at Tufts:

Mel King was born and still resides in Boston’s South End. He has been a teacher and youth worker. He served as a State Representative for 10 years. His historic Boston mayoral campaign in 1983 launched the local and national Rainbow Coalitions. He founded the Community Fellows Program at MIT Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, where he was Adjunct Professor for 25 years. The Mel King Institute of Community Building was launched in 2009 in honor of the major role he has played the community development movement. Mel is the author of Chain of Change and co-editor (with James Jennings) of From Access to Power: Black Politics In Boston. He continues to direct the South End Technology Center at Tent City. Mel was recently named as the inaugural winner of the Edward J. Blakely Award, presented by the Planners of Color Interest Group of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning for his extraordinary service towards greater social justice in urban planning and development for communities of color.

Mel greatly influenced me as a young person, while a student at MIT. When we were trying to get the university to divest from South Africa, he was the one there encouraging us to stand for what was right and to see that each generation has a mission or calling to better things for the next. When we were protesting the militarization of technology and research, he urged us to think differently about technology: Low Tech is High Tech. Technology that serves human and community needs is high tech, not just the pure processing speed of our computers.