The organization behind The Embrace, the monument to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King on Boston Common, kicks off its second annual Embrace Ideas Festival today: Three days of arts, culture and provoking conversations leading up to the Juneteenth holiday.
“The Embrace represents a moment in time for folks,” Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of Embrace Boston, told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston. “It reminded us of some of the things that we missed and we valued most during the dark ages of the pandemic. It's a promise. It's a commitment for a future. It's an opportunity for Boston to have this symbol for inclusion, equity and justice for all of its residents and visitors alike.”
The Embrace Ideas Festival, in its second year, will have a mix of academics, activists and joy activities coinciding with Juneteenth. It starts with a gospel concert Wednesday and features author Annette Gordon-Reed and journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Plus, some culinary treats.
“We leave the third day with a food day, with some amazing chefs and the age-old question: Who has the best potato salad?” Paris Jeffries said.
The five months since The Embrace was unveiled have been illuminating for Paris Jeffries, he said.
“I learned how much that meant to people in the last six months since the unveiling,” he said. “This is sort of a family reunion of some of that spirit that we all experience during the King holiday brought to Juneteenth. And so I'm excited to be in that and jump in the waters of fellowship.”
Among the attendees: Seneca Scott, an Oakland activist and a cousin of Coretta Scott King who was critical of The Embrace when it was first unveiled.
“When the opportunity came for us, for Seneca and I, to have a conversation, we realized we have more in common than we do differences,” Paris Jeffries said. “The struggles and the fight for equality and racial equity and housing justice and food insecurity that he is fighting for in Oakland, those are some of the things that we are advocating and fighting for here in Boston.”
Paris Jeffries said he’s come up with a few things he wishes he could have done differently since The Embrace's unveiling.
“I'm kind of a people pleaser and a perfectionist and a person who tries to include as many people as possible,” he said. “I wish we could have had a bigger space to include more people in all of the celebrations that were officially hosted by Embrace Boston.”
Joy is a vital part of Juneteenth, Paris Jeffries said — a celebration of freedom and resilience.
“There are books being banned and women's reproductive and abortion rights are being challenged and threatened. We have these 'don't say gay' laws,” he said. “And, you know, I think that's the stratification in our country. This emergence of hate is at the center of what's happening now. And I feel grateful that I'm around or in a state with a bunch of activists, advocates, politicians, journalists who are telling stories of resistance, of joy, of love.”
Though President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, it’s still not celebrated everywhere.
“It took, for example, almost 20 years plus for the King holiday to be celebrated and recognized,” Paris Jeffries said. “It wasn't until the year 2000 that all 50 states celebrated the MLK holiday, for example, even though it was a federal holiday.”