BOSTON – Grant Williams grabbed a microphone ahead of Wednesday night’s tip-off against the New Orleans Pelicans and sent a powerful message to a packed house at TD Garden, highlighting the pivotal role Martin Luther King Jr. played in sparking a nationwide fight for social justice, equality, and love among all races and ethnicities.
To understand and experience the power of that love, he encouraged the 18,000-plus fans in attendance to visit Boston Common’s newest memorial, fittingly titled, “The Embrace,” which was officially unveiled at the nation’s oldest public park Friday.
The 20-foot-tall, 40-foot-wide, 38,000-pound bronze masterpiece of interlocking arms was inspired by a photograph of King gleefully hugging his wife, Coretta Scott King, shortly after earning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. The famous picture was captured in Boston, the city in which their love was forged, and where MLK resided, studied, and preached.
Among those in attendance for the unveiling were King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, his daughter-in-law, Arndrea Waters King, and his 14-year-old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, who delivered an impactful speech in which she labeled the artwork alternatively as “Love 360.”
Although he couldn’t attend Friday’s celebration since he and the Celtics were on a road trip in his hometown of Charlotte, Williams did participate in the groundbreaking ceremony last April. Team co-owner Steve Pagliuca and the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation felt privileged to be in a position to support the project with a financial contribution.
Of the significance of the memorial, Williams told Celtics.com, “It represents the growth and the embrace of our culture in the community as well as our culture in the world. It describes a sense of how America is on its way and has grown to not only make everyone feel equal, but making us all feel like we’re all meant to belong here. And, it just shows the growth of the city itself; how Boston used to be in the past, it’s not how it is now. It still has work to do, but it just shows that it’s a step in the right direction and we’re fortunate to be a part of it.”
As someone who embraces equality, encourages change, and is prideful of the progression of Boston culture, Williams is honored to use his platform to promote such a monument. Knowing the history that the Celtics have played in fighting for equality, being the first NBA team with an all-Black starting lineup and the first NBA franchise with a Black head coach, he is proud to represent them in such a manner.
“It's something that my predecessors have done, it’s something that Bill Russell, one of my idols did, and it’s something that our community needs,” said Williams. “People in high-power positions, if they use their voice to speak up and speak out, that gives people that aren’t in those positions the right to do the same, even when they feel like they don’t have that right. It’s something that, if we can continue to do our part and encourage others to do theirs, there’s a lot of history that we can change, and also a lot of new history to be made.”
Boston mayor Michelle Wu spoke on the historical significance of the monument during Friday’s celebration in an interview with NBC10 Boston.
“We are a city that is often known for our history of way, way back – our very important role in the American Revolution and what it meant to stand up for freedom,” said Wu, the first woman, the first woman of color, and the first Asian American woman elected to serve as mayor of Boston. “But Boston and the values that we have here have played a role in shaping history all along the way in the most important fights of every generation and we are so honored that Boston’s legacy has intertwined with that of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and of Ms. Coretta Scott King. So, to have that be a part of our firmly embedded history, representing what our country is about, what our city is about, we hope that will spark conversation and draw people in even more.”
The monument is located at the perfect place to draw people in, right in the heart of one of the most trafficked tourist spots in the city. It’s also the first memorial erected on the Boston Common grounds in more than 30 years, and it can be found just south of the Visitor’s Center.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas encourages passersby to stroll across the granite walkway of the 1965 Freedom Plaza and step right inside the massive “Embrace” so that they can feel its powerful love.
“I feel like there’s almost a holy experience,” the memorial’s designer told NBC10 Boston, “because you look up and see the heavens through their embrace, and you can imagine that from a bird’s-eye view, they see you. Through that embrace, we all have the same potential that the Kings did.”
Experiencing that embrace will be one of the first things Williams does when he and the Celtics return from their road trip, and he encourages others to do the same.
“In the 100-plus years that my grandparents and great-grandparents lived, they were never able to see this,” Williams said of the monument and the progress it represents. “So for me to be able to be a part of it, as well as help inspire more moving forward, it’s a really grateful thing in my eyes.”