There is a small but very significant parcel of land at the corner of Northwest 12th Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (Northwest 62nd Street in Miami’s Liberty City district) which has a big story to tell, even more about the future than the past.
The L-shaped plot, comprising barely one-tenth of an acre, has been officially designated a City of Miami mini-park named Sherdavia Jenkins Peace Park in memory of a bright, promising 9-year-old girl whose life was ended on July 1, 2006, by a stray bullet during an altercation among adults as she played in front of her home in the historic Liberty Square housing complex.
The mini-park is situated at the most historically significant intersection along the boulevard, with nearby landmarks that include three prominent churches, the Yaeger Clinic building, the remains of the odious wall of segregation and Liberty Square itself.
And then there is the boulevard itself, named as a symbol of community resolve and resilience after the assassination of Dr. King, rising from the ashes of destruction to become, it has been hoped, an “outdoor museum” of his life and legacy.
Yet, the reality of that dream, like Dr. King’s own, of an equitable and harmonious society, lies more in the future than in the past, with the community’s vision, strength and resolve to make it so, one step at a time.
That is the motivation that has brought together a local artists’ collective, community residents, elected officials, city of Miami professional staff and others around one such step, in spite of city budget woes and a lack of public resources.
That step is a diligent effort to make Sherdavia Jenkins Peace Park out of just a vacant lot with no name to a beautiful, inviting play space, gathering place and safe haven to be enjoyed by children and families. As such, it is also a place for it to be made plain that the lives of Sherdavia and the 109 other child victims of homicides during her short lifetime in Miami-Dade County alone were not lost in vain. Their lives mattered, deeply, and they will always be remembered at this sacred place where the Dream is kept alive.
It is in this effort that the park was officially designated by the city in 2009 at the suggestion of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and made a project of the Liberty City Trust, tree and flower plantings have been installed, special remembrances, including a Native American ceremony to bless the land, were held with Mayor Tomas Regalado and former Commissioner Richard Dunn in attendance.
Also, Commissioner Dunn and County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson selected the venue to launch the “One Bullet Stops the Party” campaign against senseless shooting on July 4 and the Kuumba Artists Collective donated and built both a temporary sign to identify the park and a small, permanent memorial containing items of memorabilia with Sherdavia’s image.
However, due to lack of city funds, moving from a lot into a real park, with benches and other amenities still remains a challenge, including playground equipment.
For help in acquiring this big-ticket item, the artists behind the project reached out to the Children’s Movement of Florida, headed by legendary children’s advocate David Lawrence Jr., to seek sponsorship. He and the Children’s Movement enthusiastically embraced the appeal. They have even found a fascinating alternative to the usual plastic play equipment, which is the “natural playground” concept that allows for creative landscaping to be included and for children to be in closer touch with nature, such as grass and rocks, and other features. The playground is also designed to be “boundless” meaning it will be accessible to all children regardless of ability or disability.
Of course, community support is still needed, such as the help of residents who generously pitched in to help the artists install features at the park and those who help keep it clean as it becomes more meaningful.
Elected officials, potential sponsors and other friends need to know of the community’s support and ideas. Schools, youth programs, elderly facilities, garden clubs, churches and organizations can all find ways to play a part in making this small piece of land very big in our collective future.
Dinizulu Gene Tinnie is an artist and cultural activist in Miami-Dade County and a principal organizer of the Kuumba Artists Collective of South Florida which is a driving force behind the Jenkins Peace Park. He may be reached at 305-904-7620 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Dinizulu Gene Tinnie