PATERSON, NJ - Nearly eight months after announcing plans for the ambitious project in the heart of Paterson’s 4th Ward, city officials gathered with community groups, led by Paterson Habitat for Humanity, and several local residents Friday for the formal ground breaking ceremony of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.
Located at the corner of Auburn and Governor Streets, across from the Bethel A.M.E. Church where Dr. King spoke just days before his 1968 assassination, the now litter strewn lot, long a destination for those seeking a refuge for drug use and other nefarious activity, is being transformed into a beautiful sanctuary of reflection and meditation.
The event kicked off a series of four Saturdays in which local volunteers, including from United Way of Passaic County, City Green, and St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation, will plant 35 trees and install two concrete chess tables and two picnic tables as part of the renovation project. A drainage system for rainwater flow will also be incorporated and a bronze statue of Dr. King will be erected according to officials.
Previously referring to the effort as “the start of a new beginning,” 4th Ward Councilwoman has often shared her vision of attracting tour buses from the Great Falls to Bethel AME to “see where Dr. King spoke.”
“51 years ago, Dr. King came here, when I was a little girl,” Cotton said at the recent ceremony. “He led the way in the civil rights movement,” she reflected, offering a timely reminder of the important role the legendary orator played in our nation’s history.
Follwing a welcome and project overview by Project Manager for Paterson Habitat Veronica Fernandez-Rogers, and the singing of the Negro National Anthem by Jeremy Watson, several speakers including CEO of Paterson Habitat Scott Millard, Rev. Allan Boyer, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church, and Ruth Mejia, a resident of the 4th Ward, shared their reasons for being involved in the project
The always notable Russel Grady, the longtime Paterson resident and owner of Mr. G’s restaurant, and the man largely credited with getting Dr. King to visit Pateson, was also on hand to reflect on the importance of the new park.
“We were hoping to get a plot of ground by The Great Falls but it has been deemed commercial property,” Roshawn Davis of the Bronze Heat said referring to a goal of his organization to purchase a vacant lot and transform it into park space. “When we found out we could help renovate this park, it was a perfect fit.”
Reiterating the importance they have placed on the project Bronze Heat President, Alton Dixon, who is also serving at the President of the Friends of MLK Park, also spoke.
While city leaders previously designated Auburn Street as Freedom Boulevard in honor of King’s visit in 2014, the neighborhood continues to struggle as one Paterson’s most drug-infested areas. In November narcotics detectives arrested 82 people in one day for drugs related offenses in an apartment building less than a block away and in February,2016, a teenager was shot to death in a home at 87 Auburn Street prompting city officials to evacuate and board up the dwelling.
“We are standing here on a legacy,” Mayor Andre Sayegh stated, reiterating his Administration’s commitment to ridding the community of crime. “Now we’re taking the neighborhood back for good.”
The work to MLK Park is being done completely by volunteers. Anyone interested in assisting in the effort on July 20 or 27, or August 3, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. can click here to register.
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