A life-size bronze statue of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was unveiled at a new park named after him in the corner of Auburn and Governor Street on Wednesday morning to commemorate the 56th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Municipal officials cut the ribbon on the new Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, situated across the street from the Bethel AME Church, former Community Baptist Church of Love, where King spoke on March 27, 1968, days before his assassination.
Inside the park is an eight-foot tall statue of King, an 8×20 mural depicting a sunrise over the horizon, and a rain garden. Also, there are 4 wooden benches, 2 tables for chess, and a little library for children.
The walkway inside the small park is decorated with rectangles containing King quotes.
“We have a park!” declared Veronica Rogers of Habitat for Humanity. Paterson Habitat for Humanity took over the project that had been languishing for half a decade. Five years ago, municipal officials held an unveiling to claim a new park would emerge at the vacant lot, but little happened over the next years.
Rogers said the park cost approximately $200,000. She said half of the funding came from the Passaic County Open Space Fund. As many as 200 volunteers gave their time over a 14-month period to make the park reality, she said.
Other organizations like City Green, Paterson Smart, United Way of Passaic County, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and the Bronze Heat provided assistance to the project.
“We’re beautifying a neighborhood so children, irrespective of color and culture, can play here,” said mayor Andre Sayegh. “This is proof the dream is alive and well.”
“This is just absolutely wonderful,” said councilwoman Ruby Cotton. She represents the area where the park is located.
The section of Governor Street in front of the park was closed off on Wednesday, allowing approximately 100 people to witness the unveiling of the statue.
Sayegh said Rogers ran into some trouble securing the statue. He said senator Cory Booker stepped in and helped to secure the life-size statue. Stan Watts of Utah created the statue, said Rogers.
“When we decide to go to a park, we decide to spend time in our community with our neighbors. We bring our children to play with whatever children are there regardless of color or creed,” said John Bartlett, director of the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Bartlett contributed the first book to the little library. Poet Talena Lachelle Queen contributed the second book.
Queen has been responsible for installing little libraries at parks all over the city.
At the unveiling of the large mural, artist Christopher Fabor Muhammad, who designed the mural with four other artists over a five-day period, explained, “This is a scene of serenity, peace, happiness, and relaxation. The sunrise is very instrumental in creating a warm and uplifting mood. It represents a new day, a fresh start, to take on what lies ahead.”
Muhammad also explained the deeper meaning of the mural. For example, King is represented by a purple butterfly; Rosa Parks by a blue butterfly; Barack Obama by a yellow butterfly; and Emmett Till by a black butterfly. A fifth, a black and orange monarch butterfly, pays tribute to the city of Paterson, said Muhammad.
The park’s upkeep and maintenance will be carried out by the Friends of the MLK Park, said Rogers. She said a maintenance plan was created by Rutgers University.
But retired fire captain Alton Dickson, head of the Friends of MLK Park, said his group will handle the upkeep with help from the city’s public works, raising concerns the park will be neglected like other parks throughout the city.
Sayegh reassured the park will be properly maintained.