A historic embrace will spark dialogue around racial equity for years to come

Bryan Northrop, Executive Vice President, General Manager, is seeing firsthand how projects with historical meaning have the power to transform a city and create positive change. He shares his thoughts on leaning into the present moment and rallying his team to support King Boston’s work around racial justice.

King Boston
1 / 2 Left: The embrace of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King set the tone for the artwork of the memorial. Right: A close-up rendering of The Embrace shows arms interlocking in a warm embrace.
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2 / 2 A rendering of The Embrace shows the memorial serving as a strong touchstone for justice in Boston Common.

It’s one thing to say we have values. It’s another to go out and put them into action. Living our values has been the driving motivation of my colleagues here in Boston who have, since 2020, been giving their time and resources to building The Embrace.

A memorial project of King Boston, The Embrace will aim to start and hold space for conversations around racial justice for years to come.

Setting aside time to speak about the legacies, accomplishments and historical struggles of Black Americans is imperative. It’s also critical that we have this conversation year-round.

Racial inequity in this nation is both historic and present. This reality demands our ongoing attention and empathy. Each of us has a unique path we can walk to meaningfully participate in this conversation.

At Skanska, one unique path to participation we’ve pursued has been through our partnership with King Boston. As a program of The Boston Foundation, the nonprofit creates a call to action through three distinct projects: The Embrace, Center for Economic Justice and Embrace Ideas.

In the summer of 2020, news organizations in Boston highlighted the organization’s plans for The Embrace.

The memorial seeks to provide a living space for conversation, education and reflection on the racial and economic justice ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. It will also “serve as a permanent monument to the Kings’ time in Boston, a period in which they met and fell in love, and which helped shape their approach to a just and equitable society.”

Many, myself included, didn’t know that the Kings had roots in Boston. Not only did they pursue higher education here, but Boston Common served as vital ground for the civil rights icon. His address, delivered here in 1965, was a call to action to continue the work of justice.

The Embrace will live in Boston Common, America’s first public park with a 400-year-old history and tradition of civic gatherings.

Responding to the moment

When I first saw renderings of the memorial, I knew it had the potential to be an incredibly stirring addition to the landscape of Boston.

Working in construction for some time, I’ve found myself anticipating areas where I can support and rally others to lean in. As construction professionals, we’re in a special position to use our technical skills to directly benefit others. It’s not something I take lightly. With a project like this, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful in imagining how Skanska’s expertise could translate in a meaningful way.

Simultaneously, witnessing the heightened narrative around racial injustice in the summer of 2020, I found myself compelled to do something. It dawned on me that Skanska could get involved in this memorial and contribute to something that initiates and advances a much-needed conversation.

Soon after, I reached out to King Boston and spoke with Marie St. Fleur, their executive director at the time, and offered our support. The team had just recently met and discussed the need to find someone to manage the memorial’s construction process. This was the only cue we needed to step in and get to work.

Staying within budget without sacrificing the vision

Since then, it has been all systems go in terms of partnering with King Boston to build this memorial. Project Manager Robert “Rob” Ryan has been at the helm of our relationship with the nonprofit from the outset.

“When we stepped in to support the project, King Boston had artist, Hank Willis Thomas, onboard for the sculpture element, and architect MASS Design for the plaza,” says Rob. “Still, they weren’t confident that they could get this project off the ground.”

“They were struggling to make their budget work with the design concept. We helped them redesign several areas of the project while still ensuring we kept the vision and integrity of the memorial,” continues Rob.

A few other factors made it difficult to begin this project, most notably, the location of the planned memorial. Building a permanent installation in a public park for a nonprofit managed by the city isn’t so straightforward.

Still, with Rob and our preconstruction team members deeply committed to the vision, we pulled it off. Our previous experience with building the Holocaust Memorial by Faneuil Hall was also impressed on our minds. That project’s lasting impact showed us that some projects can touch people more than others.

Rooted in a historic rally, The Embrace is welcomed by the city

Fast forward to today, we’re gearing up for groundbreaking on April 27—Coretta Scott King’s birthday—and installation this summer and fall. The grand opening for The Embrace is scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2023.

With so much activity and media around this project taking place in the heart of our city, the public’s sentiment is hopeful and eager. People are excited for this memorial not only because it pays homage to the Kings’ contributions here, but because it will be a catalyst for hard conversations.

“It’s a dedication to the 1965 Freedom Rally–one of Boston’s largest civil rights demonstrations. This memorial is trying to tell the fabric of that story,” says Rob. “Sixty-five plaques in the stone plaza will hold names of people associated with that rally. This component alone invites visitors to begin to understand the magnitude and importance of that event.” 

An embrace with deep meaning

The Embrace’s central artwork features arms in a loving embrace, inspired by a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. hugging Coretta Scott King. It’s this simple gesture that King Boston believes symbolizes the unity our country needs not just today, but for years to come.

The Embrace is just a first step in King Boston’s plans for advancing the conversation around racial injustice. In the future, a Center for Economic Justice will also be created to complement the memorial and King Boston’s other activities.

Skanska has already been invited to continue supporting King Boston as they make their mark on the city of Boston. I’m proud to be part of a company that wants to engage in issues that matter and affect people every day.

Interested in shaping the community where you live? Apply to one of our open positions here.

Last updated: 3/17/2022