overtown-garden-web.jpgMIAMI — Sun Life Stadium was packed to capacity Monday night as tens of thousands of football enthusiasts traveled to South Florida to watch the University of Alabama and the University of Notre Dame battle in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS.)

Alabama did a “Roll Tide” over Notre Dame,  to win college’s top football championship 42-12 in an intense game, especially in the second half.

But a day earlier, players, alumni, cheerleaders and students from each school set aside their rivalry to perform volunteer work in partnership with Roots in the City, an Overtown-based community beautification organization, as well as Camillus House and the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

Marvin Dunn, organizer of Roots in the City, said the project came about after he received a call from University of Alabama officials, who found him on the Internet as a result of his 1997 book, Black Miami. “They said they were looking for a project to do in ‘black’ Miami and two days later the University of Notre Dame called and asked if they could participate as well, so we were about to have over 400 people working towards the beautification of this community,” said Dunn, an expert on black Miami and a retired Florida International University professor.

After prep work by Camillus House, a shelter for the homeless, the student volunteers put in the infrastructure for the garden using concrete blocks piled about two feet high. They filled the blocks with soil and placed botanical plants in the front and vegetable beds in the back, for a total of about 15 beds at 301 N.W. Ninth St. 

“We are now prepared to grow fresh produce on this corner as a result of the work these folks have done,” Dunn said. “This is a reaffirmation that the kind of work we are doing is important in the community and that if we stick with our goal of providing jobs, uplifting and beautifying the community, God will answer our prayers.”

CRA Executive Director Clarence Woods said the project was an extension of a partnership with Roots in the City and Dunn in which his organization finances a program to train residents to do landscaping, plantings and beautification. “What speaks volumes to me is that, as they were preparing for the biggest game of the year, these college students stopped and took time to come into the community and do a service project,” Woods said. “It sends the right message that regardless of how high you aspire to go, you can always take time to serve your fellow man.” 

Phillip Sullivan, a junior Consumer Affairs major who works at the University of Alabama’s Community Service Center and assisted in the coordination of the Overtown service project, said the volunteers also helped with trash and debris removal throughout the neighborhood. They also cut down and replanted trees to enhance the beautification effort.

“This project felt very good and gave me a sense of unity,” said Sullivan. “Although we are opposing teams, it’s great to see both sides come together for a great cause that produced great results.”

Sullivan’s classmate Christopher Jordan, a first year graduate student majoring in Consumer Conflict Management, said he looked forward to visiting the beaches, malls and nightlife but participating in the project gave him a sense of pride.

“On my way down here I didn’t really have any expectations because I’m not really a green thumb kind of guy,” he said, “but I felt that it could never hurt to take the time out to give back to a community that obviously needs it and I got a chance to interact with people from Notre Dame that I probably would have never interacted with before.”

The garden will be maintained by Dunn’s staff and members of the Overtown Beautification Team. Starting this Friday, the location will also serve as a farmer’s market that will open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.