Memphis Greenspace President Van Turner Jr. was checking out the Memphis Juneteenth Festival June 18 in Health Sciences Park. It was the eve of Juneteenth.
“I got over to the park on Saturday afternoon,” said Turner. “Juneteenth is always a great celebration. When I got there, I was excited to see all the people sitting on blankets and fold-up chairs, enjoying the food and live music with their families, kids were running around. I loved it. So, I thought, ‘What if events were going on in the park all the time?’”
The scene is what Memphis Greeenspace is all about, said Turner, a lawyer and Shelby County commissioner, who was instrumental in helping Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland find a novel way to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, from the park at Union and Dunlap in the Medical District.
Memphis Greenspace endeavors to make parks neighborhood gathering places to promote fellowship and revitalize the city’s parks.
“The space was vibrant and inviting because of all the activity,” said Turner. “Memphis Greenspace sees parks as places to create a sense of community.
“People will always come together for special events set in a park, either recreational or enrichment. I thought it would be a great idea if the Juneteenth organization could partner with us and host events each month.”
Turner went with his instincts and began looking for Memphis Juneteenth Festival President Telisa Franklin. She was cooling off in her RV.
“I was happy to see Attorney Van Turner,” said Franklin. “I had no idea what he was about to say, but I could tell there was something on his mind.”
Turner complimented Franklin on the engaging schedule of festival events. Then he asked, “Would you be interested in partnering with Memphis Greenspace and plan events each month? I believe you could bring the park to life.”
Franklin couldn’t believe such a great prospect had just fallen into her lap.
“He could tell from the look on my face what my answer was,” said Franklin. “I got so excited that I immediately imagined the possibilities. I smiled as I pictured children’s carnivals and petting zoos, pony rides and concerts in the park. More walk/run events would promote health and fitness. The possibilities were endless.”
Although Turner was pleased with Franklin’s enthusiastic response, he was not finished.
When he got up on stage to greet the crowd, Turner asked, ‘How would you like to see activities in the park all year round?’”
The suggestion drew cheers and applause. Turner had his answer.
When the festival closed Sunday evening on June 19, Franklin already was working on a list of potential activities for the park.
“I was thinking we could bring in some swings and slides and monkey bars for the kiddos,” said Franklin. “Children could come over and play in the park like we used to do. This was the 29th Annual Juneteenth Festival, and we are about to create a new legacy at Health Sciences Park.”
Franklin envisions making the former Forrest Park into a “community gathering place,” that will belong to everyone.
“I want people who work Downtown to enjoy lunch in the park. I want children to play on the swings and just be children,” said Franklin. “We will make it a welcoming place for all people. Health Sciences Park will be ‘The People’s Park.’”
Turner said there will be a written contract between Memphis Greenspace and Memphis Juneteenth Festival for an extended period, but more specific details must be fleshed out in coming days.