Nation's first social justice park breaks ground in Columbus

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The first park in the nation dedicated to social justice broke ground Tuesday at the corner of Broad and Cleveland in the heart of the Discovery District in Downtown Columbus.

The park is dedicated to the memory of Rev. Dr. Washington Gladden, a Columbus community leader with a national following.

Gladden was a staunch advocate for social justice in terms of civil rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, religious pluralism, school integration, and the needs of the poor and oppressed.

“Because of Gladden and Poindexter, 74 years before Brown vs. the Board of education our schools in Columbus were integrated,” said Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens, senior minister of First Congregational Church.

The vision for the park is to bring Columbus together and be a safe haven for those feeling oppressed as well as a starting point for all to build the path to a better future.

“Division by race or class or gender or whether we are immigrants or indigenous, all are welcome in this place,” said Rev. Dr. Renee Wormack-Keels., Executive Director of The Spirituality Network.

Just a few blocks from the Statehouse, the park is to be an oasis of hope where past achievements for social justice are recognized and current struggles are revealed. It will include art to educate people about the past and modern technology to provoke thought with hopes of shaping the future.

“In each of the apps that people will be able to pull up, there are questions about what you are going to do to make education better. In other words, it's not just a matter of going back in time and going awe, which is always nice, but also be able to say Ah Ha! I will make a difference because I am here,” said Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens.

Golden shovels dug into the dirt Tuesday to signify the official start of construction. The Washington Gladden Social Justice Park will open in August of 2018. Once completed, people will be able to enjoy an interpretive path, a relaxing water feature, and a large-scale art project serving as the backdrop of the park. Over time as the park grows, programs tied to social justice will be launched that will be held at the park and in the community.

The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ of Columbus, Ohio serves as a sponsor of the park, reflecting its commitment to social justice as a principle of its faith. As part of its commitment to support the community and serve others, the church has dedicated 18,000 square feet of its property for use by the Washington Gladden Social Justice Park and has provided leadership and financial support for the park’s development.