MLK legacy gets a creative upgrade in South Mpls park

Playground a next step in planned improvements

 

The next phase in the re-dedication efforts of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Minneapolis kicked off May 6 with community members and partners, City and County officials, Minneapolis park board members, and members of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Council gathering at the park for the official groundbreaking ceremony of a new playground.

Attendees listened to heartfelt remarks and speeches to mark the removal of the old playground and the installation of a new one honoring the memory and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new playground is set for August 22 at the fifth annual re-dedication celebration.

The new playground will feature an interpretive panel, historical information, and QR (quick response) code links to take visitors to an African American Registry website. Additionally, a climbing structure will replicate the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march, plus a climbable mountain top; an educational staircase illustrating authors of African heritage; a flag from the Red Hand Division WWI African American regiment; and a themed children’s play area to highlight African American inventors, including Minnesota’s Frederick McKinley Jones, inventor of refrigerator and air-conditioning technologies.

“We’re excited for the opportunity for children to learn as they play, parents to learn while their children play, and for the grandparents to remember and never forget the lessons we learned…for we stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Mary Merrill Anderson, member of the MLK Legacy Council.

MLK Jr Park playground groundbreaking. The ribbon cutting for the new playground will take place August 22.
MLK Jr. Park playground groundbreaking. The ribbon cutting for the new playground will take place August 22.

A collaboration between the Legacy Council, Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and community members, the new playground is the latest in the restorative efforts for the South Minneapolis park following the August 2014 moving of the Freedom Form II, a sculpture donated by New York artist Daniel LaRue Johnson.

The sculpture was originally dedicated in 1970 to honor Dr. King in the park. It is now featured more prominently in the park and surrounded by granite benches with quotes from Dr. King on one side and reflections from community members about his quotes on the other.

Attendee Willie Daniels said he was encouraged by the playground developments, stating it will be good for the youth who “will be able to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and play at the same time. And that’s very important, because they’ll remember more.”

Freedom Form II, a sculpture donated by New York artist Daniel LaRue Johnson.
Freedom Form II, a sculpture donated by New York artist Daniel LaRue Johnson.

Graphic artist Shalette Cauley-Wandrick, who helped realize concept artist Esther Osayande’s vision for the playground, said in addition to educating kids she hoped the park would inspire them. “With this park, it will be a reality for [kids] to know that someone who was African American did the inventions in this park…and they can do this, too.“They can be creators. Hopefully, this will encourage them to go out and try to invent something.”

Cauley-Wandrick said she pushed for the interactive social media aspects of the playground because “These young folks always want to give their kids a phone at an early age. Why not let their phones be an instrument of education? With the QR code app, they can learn about Martin Luther King and civil rights… They can learn [about] the Pettus Bridge.”

The groundbreaking came a week after hundreds of Twin Cities students gathered at the park for a “Black Lives Matter” protest after staging a school walk-out to decry police brutality. Sixth District Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn gave a nod to the BLM event, setting the tone for the afternoon by expressing hope for the future while acknowledging the work yet to be done to fulfill King’s dream of a “beloved community.”

“While we’re here today to celebrate a playground, and playgrounds are about fun, I think it’s also very significant to say that this playground will also commemorate where we are going and where we haven’t reached yet,” said Bourn.

“It’s not lost on me [that] on this very spot just a couple days ago several hundred kids from Minneapolis Public Schools sacrificed a day of their education to come out and proclaim…something as basic as Black Lives Matter!” continued Bourn to the applause of the crowd. “And it would be my hope, and I think the hope of all of us, that in the year 2015 that’s not something that we [still] need to proclaim at the top of our lungs,” he said.

Minneapolis Park Commissioner Brad Bourn with Graphic Artist Shalette Cauley-Wandrick (l) and Concept Artist Esther Osayande.
Minneapolis Park Commissioner Brad Bourn with Graphic Artist Shalette Cauley-Wandrick (l) and Concept Artist Esther Osayande.

Bourn touched on the early disagreements over the controversial dog park proposal that was ultimately tabled due to community outcry. He cited the progress made since then as an encouraging sign, telling the MSR after the ceremony, “This has been my favorite example of people meeting in adversity but coming away with friendships.”

Sandra Richardson, co-chair of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Council, also spoke to the MSR on the dog park issue, noting that beyond that matter, the concerns centered on a proper presentation of King’s hard-fought legacy. She went on to reflect on the vision and next steps for the park.

“There will be gardens and an amphitheater in the next phase, [a place] for kids to stand up and speak out against injustice or problems that they see in the community.

“Many of the things that Dr. King fought for and stood for 50, 60 years ago still need to be fought for, and people still need to stand for,” Richardson concluded. “And so we want this park to be a place where that happens.”

Ultimately, organizers hope the park is utilized by everyone in keeping with Dr. King’s vision. “This park is dedicated to African American’s success in a modern society, but this park is for all children. This park is for everybody. It’s a hands-on learning-play experience,” said Osayande.

Cauley-Wandrick  echoed that sentiment, adding, “That’s why…when you come in, it says ‘welcome,’ but it’s in different languages. That’s one thing Martin Luther King said — he wants all God’s children to get along together and play. That’s what he would love.”

 

Find more info about the playground and park here.

Paige Elliott welcomes reader responses to pelliott@spokesman-recorder.com.

About Paige Elliott

Paige Elliott is the digital editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at pelliott@spokesman-recorder.com.

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