By Cassondra Meadows
Lets get civic!
It sounds great and catchy, but is it more than just a phrase to sling around?
Absolutely. Being civic-minded means thinking about our city, Washington, D.C., first. In my experience, thinking “civic” means taking action on issues D.C. faces. Communities are made up of many people with different experiences and backgrounds, not just one person. Taking civic action should not fall to one individual; it should be tackled by the community as a united group. When something is wrong or hurts our community, we should all feel compelled to act on it and correct the wrong for the betterment of all of us.
But, it’s okay, someone else will make that change.
Unfortunately, that’s not as likely as you might think. Don’t be afraid to take the first step towards getting to know your neighbors, finding the solution for a local problem, or even just researching an issue.
We’re not saying that everyone should jump head first into complicated issues by themselves. What we are saying is that it takes a community to make real change, and it starts with one voice speaking out on behalf of a community, backing them.
Here at the DC Tutoring & Mentoring Initiative, we have an inspirational example of this right across the street at the historic Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park. For many years, this was considered one of the most dangerous parks in the area. The park acquired a negative reputation within the surrounding neighborhoods that deterred community members from visiting this park.
Until a group decided to take the park back.
Steve Coleman was one of the leading voices in their campaign. Coleman is the Executive Director and President of Washington Parks and People. Coleman led his local neighborhood crime patrol, which evolved into Friends of Meridian Hill. He developed a volunteer patrol to get to know people in the area and help deter crime after a tragic crime. A young boy was shot and killed in front of his house. The neighborhood gathered attempting to make sense of the situation. The police were saying to stay inside, but the group knew that something had to be done. The neighbors established the volunteer patrol because they believed in thinking beyond themselves. They wanted to see real change within their neighborhood, so they took a stand.
From being labeled as one of the most unsafe parks to being a hub of community activity, the park has come a long way because a few committed individuals decided to make a change.
This group would go out at night on strolls to meet the people in the park. They modeled their approach after two grandparents from the Southeast who took to the streets to fix the crime in their neighborhood. The grandparents had one rule: Say hello to everyone. Coleman and his group adopted this rule along with two others: “Never carry a weapon or something that could resemble one” and “Travel and work in multiracial groups.” Coleman remarked that approaching strangers at night was not easy, but it was what was best for the community. He also found that “these people, although they seem intimidating to approach, were phenomenal assets.”
These small patrols eventually evolved into a larger group that would lead community cleanup days, host performances, and sponsor other fun activities. As the group started working to bring the park back, they encountered many people who cared deeply about Meridian Hill. As the group dove deeper into the park’s history, its members uncovered different stories and reasons about why the park mattered so much to people.
Coleman said, “We set about trying to bring that story back to life, to give both the memories and dreams a new chance at being real.”
The group embodied a civic mindset and created real change by transforming the park into a place where community events are held and families go to spend the day. Walking into this park now, people are walking their dogs and children are squealing in delight as they play.
We invite you to come out to Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park on Saturday, July 21st from 12-8 pm! Find out more and get tickets at civicfest.us!
Join us as we say “Let’s get civic!”