A neighborhood park that was once rife with crime and gang activity will soon be safe again for children to play, thanks to a partnership with the city of Memphis, the Memphis Police Department (MPD), and the Denver Park Neighborhood Association.
Deborah Lovelace has lived in Frayser's Denver Park neighborhood for years, and the park near her home, also called Denver Park, has been an eyesore for most of that time. After being nominated president of the Denver Park Neighborhood Association, Lovelace began dreaming up ways the community could improve the park.
Lovelace admits that before the police and community got involved, the old park wasn't a place she wanted to be.
"It was just kind of a secluded hole in the wall for crime," Lovelace said."People were in there just kind of hanging out and doing drugs, and other people would be threatened with violence by gang members if they tried to use the park. It was an intimidating place."
After Lovelace informed the MPD of what was going on in the park, they did more than just run out the gang members. Lovelace said the police went door to door to set up a neighborhood watch program and invited residents of the Denver Park neighborhood to attend neighborhood watch classes that instructed them how to fight back against crime.
And police didn't stop there. After concerns were raised about children playing basketball in the street in the area, police began an outreach program for the children of the neighborhood, taking them to basketball tournaments, the Memphis Pink Palace Museum, and other field trips around the city.
"We actually have a beautiful relationship with police and the community outreach program that they set up," Lovelace said. "They know all of our kids by name, and the kids run to the police instead of running away from them. We are all very familiar with each other because they've done such a wonderful job."
Even with a very successful youth outreach program, Denver Park still needs a lot of work. Currently, the only park equipment is a rusty swing, a broken basketball goal, and a raggedy fence that is supposed to function as a backstop for a baseball diamond. But now that the gang activity has ceased, Lovelace and the rest of the neighborhood feel safe organizing at Denver Park, and the police and neighborhood association have began holding annual events at the once-dangerous location.
"The police have more power than we have, but the difference is that they actually wanted citizen involvement. They got this project started and then handed it over to us, and it's just grown from there," Lovelace said.
When completed, the park will feature a pavilion with stationary barbecue grills, a refurbished basketball court, a half-mile walking trail, a playground, adult fitness equipment and plenty of space for free play and multi-purpose use. The city hopes to have the park completely refurbished by spring of next year.
"All these kids needed was somewhere to go, and now they are getting it," Lovelace said. "There are a lot of young people in this community, but there just wasn't anything to keep them busy. [Denver Park] never even had a bench or a water fountain. There was nothing there."