By Nick Diamantides
Long Beach has found a way to provide open space to one of its communities while honoring a person who was pivotal in America’s Civil Rights movement. Last Thursday, April 8, city officials conducted a groundbreaking ceremony for a new park named after Rosa Parks, the famous African-American woman who refused to move to the back of the bus when a white person stepped on board. The incident sparked the famous Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955.
About 100 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony. “We are a proud participant in helping this project come to life,” said Amy Bodek, executive director of the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA). Bodek noted that several entities and individuals had worked together for years to bring the park from dream to reality. “I want to thank our City Manager Pat West, Phil Hester– director of the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine– and the RDA board for all they did,” she said.
Bodek noted that it was a fitting honor to name the park after the revered civil rights activist. “When Rosa Parks later recalled the incident, she said she didn’t refuse to give up her seat because she was physically tired but because she was tired of giving in,” Bodek said. “It’s so important for the City of Long Beach and its communities to not give in.”
The small park (11,300 square feet) is located on the northeast corner of 15th Street and Alamitos Avenue in the city’s 6th District, represented by Councilman Dee Andrews, who also addressed the crowd. “This community just doesn’t give up,” Andrews said. “We can’t afford to give up– we have been beat down for so long, and finally we got somebody to say it’s time to make a difference.”
He thanked all the city officials who worked with him to create the park, but acknowledged that it had taken a long time. “But most things take a long time when it’s going to be done right,” he said. “We don’t want to rush this thing through.” He stressed, however, that within two or three months the park will be completed.
Agreeing with Bodek’s remarks, Andrews added that the park’s name would serve to remind its users of an important part of America’s history. “We are gathered here today to break ground on what will be the Rosa Parks Park,” he said. “Mrs. Parks became known as the mother of the Civil Rights movement when she refused to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus during the ‘50s. That one small act changed the bus transportation system for everyone around the country.”
Andrews said that, while Rosa Parks dedicated her life to freedom for everyone, the park will offer a different kind of freedom. It will give children a place to laugh and play, and it will give everyone the freedom to sit and relax in a beautiful, green environment.
“This neighborhood park is going to be such an incredible asset to our community,” he added. “It will feature a strolling path, and it will be simply beautiful.” Andrews also noted that the park could not have been created without the help of the RDA, the Arts Council for Long Beach and Long Beach Transit. “This project is coming together because we worked together to make things happen,” he said.
Dana Lee, spokesperson for Long Beach Transit, said the company is extremely pleased to be part of the project. “Our participation would not have been possible without the funding support we received from our Congresswoman Laura Richardson,” Lee added. “We are particularly excited about the public art component that will be included in this park. Long Beach Transit has a long history of including public art in our facilities.”
The public art will pay tribute to Rosa Parks and will be a component of a bus stop plaza that will be constructed in a corner of the park.
“This is a great event,” said City Manager Pat West. “It’s going to be a great park.” He noted that the project has taken three years so far and the park will replace an old, dilapidated laundromat. “We were lucky enough to buy it from a willing seller and to also acquire the property to the north,” he said. “It’s going to be a wonderful park in memory of Rosa Parks.” He added that the bus stop that will be created by Long Beach Transit and the Arts Council will also greatly beautify the surrounding neighborhood.
“This is absolutely an outstanding project,” said Hester. “This is exactly the kind of thing this community is interested in. This will show that the city working with the RDA can make a dramatic impact in any community to create parks and provide open space, and we are excited to be a part of that.”
The Long Beach Public Works Department will be overseeing the construction of the park. According to Cassie Perez-Harmison, Long Beach Development Services communications assistant, the total cost of the park, including acquisition, planning, design and construction is $837,338, all of which is coming from RDA funds. The bus stop, public art and lighting will cost $75,000, all of which is coming from Long Beach Transit funds, but 80 percent of that amount came from the federal grant mentioned above.