In 2018, my wife-to-be and I posed awkwardly for the camera as best we knew how in front of the brutalist waterfall-laden backdrop that was Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Downtown Rochester. It was our engagement photography session, and it turned out wonderfully, despite the fact that these two professional photographers were far more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it.
After 20 years of being dry, The City Of Rochester once again turned on the spigot in 2018, allowing the water to flow through the unique public space in the center of downtown. I marveled as the “new-to-me” water features transformed a cold mountain of concrete into a place the felt alive again.
But 2020 and Covid-19 rendered the fountains silent, thus quieting MLK Park once again. That is, until the Black Live Matter movement rallied around the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Rochester’s premier public artist, community advocate and humanitarian Shawn Dunwoody, in concert with city leadership sprung into action, painting the entire MLK Park space black and providing a limitless supply of chalk for those who want to visit and make a statement about institutionalized racism in our city and society. More recently, a piano has been added to the powerfully uplifting landscape.
Furthermore, MLK Park has become the center for regular protests against social injustice with regard to people of color in Rochester, turning a once under-utilized space into a place where Rochester residents can feel free and comfortable to express their thoughts about racism and equality in our city.
The repurposing of public space in a Covid-19 world has been a powerful movement. In Rochester, New York, the repurposing of MLK Park as a center for activism against racial injustice has created a monument for change, and we are decidedly a better city for it!