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Social Justice Park To Bring People Together To Forge Better Future

Civic and religious leaders broke ground Tuesday on a first-of-its kind social justice park in downtown Columbus. 

Mike Foley reports.

Washington Gladden Social Justice Park will sit at the corner of East Broad Street and Cleveland Avenue. The park’s path will offer inspiring quotes and guidance on the meaning of social justice. It will serve as a gathering space for community forums and dialogue. The adjacent First Congregational Church purchased the land through a capital campaign to create a green space to bring people together in the name of civic engagement. Senior minister Reverend Timothy Ahrens explains why naming the park after Gladden seemed the natural choice.

“Dr. Gladden served as the minister of this church from Christmas Eve1882 to the time he retired in 1914, and really stayed until the time of his death in 1918. The story goes he would call the pastor and his successor would say okay, the pulpit is yours. Locally he was active in building our congregation while working tirelessly for justice in this city and across the world. He led causes of civil rights, workers’ rights, voters’ rights, school integration and the need for the poor and the oppressed to be free. The Ohio State Journal headline on the day after his death read – Columbus has lost its first citizen.”

Gladden also served a term on Columbus City Council from 1900 – 1902. In 1905, Gladden and his wife founded a settlement house on the west side that later became known as the Gladden Community House. Supporters of the park see the space as one dedicated to reflection, but also action on social justice. Current Columbus City Council member Elizabeth Brown agrees.

“The presence of a physical commemoration of the fight for social justice and of Dr. Gladden’s work is not a symbol that we’ve reached any kind of pinnacle in that fight. Instead it’s a place that we can have ongoing conversations about how to do better. But not as an idea, as something that we have to live out, fight for and make a reality.”

The park will also feature art installations and eventually performances. Nannette Maciejunes heads the nearby Columbus Museum of Art.  

“Art is integral to the human experience and what it means to be a human being. So many artists have stood up for that humanity and equal rights.  

Tim Brownfield read from one of Gladden’s many writings to sum up the park’s mission.

In the darkest night of the year, 

When the stars have all gone out, 

That courage is better than fear, 

That faith is truer than doubt;  

And fierce though the fiends may fight, 

And long though the angels hide,  

I know that Truth and Right  

Have the universe on their side;  

And somewhere, beyond the stars, 

Is a Love that is better than fate;  

When the night unlocks her bars 

I shall see Him, and I will wait

Officials say construction will begin soon with an anticipated opening date in August. 

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring AAA, Columbus-area and Ohio-based musicians, along with additional artists that inspire him.
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