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Malcolm X Park Gets Us out of “Me” and into “We”

Washington, D.C. has amazing parks. Those who read my blog often know my love for Rock Creek Park, the enormous and beautiful urban park which runs the length (and more) of the District. But it has been a long time since I visited Malcolm X Park. Today I decided to make a visit. I forgot how stunning it is. Officially named Meridian Hill Park, this awesome park sits in Northwest Washington, D.C. between Euclid and Florida Avenues to the north and south, and between 16th and 15th Streets to the east and west. Thomas Jefferson, in an effort to distance the new nation even farther from the British, wanted the U.S. to have its own meridian line. So he created zero latitude and longitude lines to make an American Meridian. One of these lines goes through this park so it was named Meridian Hill Park. But, I have never heard a living human being call it that name. Since I moved here 14 years ago, it’s clearly known as Malcolm X Park. On my visit today, I learned that because the park contains a Presidential memorial– to President Buchanan– its name cannot be changed. No matter. Everyone calls it Malcolm X Park.

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I first came here back in 2002 and 2003 when the park was the gathering place for many of the anti-Iraq War protests. In the summer, the park is a gem. It holds a stunning network of fountains and water falls, a fascinating statue of St. Joan of Arc, and the classical memorial to President Buchanan. For many years, it has hosted a remarkable drum circle on sundays. This circle sometimes holds hundreds of drummers and percussionists who play for hours. You can almost always find many people sitting in the park’s many shaded areas. On sundays, there are also Tai Chi groups and all kinds of other martial artists. Today, perhaps because of the holiday weekend, there weren’t many people here and the drum circle was quite small. No matter. Though small in numbers, the drummers were passionate.

DrumCircleI also learned during my visit today that after the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, when many neighborhoods in the District burned, two neighborhoods near the park were especially damaged: the U Street neighborhood nearby and Colombia Heights. In an effort to bring diverse members of the city together after these scarring riots, the park hosted a summer concert series that attracted people from all over the area. A park ranger today told me that sometimes 20,000 people attended these weekly summer concerts.

Even in moments of crisis, like the time following Dr. King’s assassination, the park fulfilled its purpose. The same purpose it fulfilled today on a hot, lazy, ordinary summer sunday. The park was a little America. There were couples arm in arm taking photos in front of the pools, old men playing checkers, kids running here and there, young people tossing frisbees, footballs, and the always present few playing hacky sack. (Is that how it’s spelled?) There were tourists in awe of the network of fountains and pools. And there was the small but growing drum circle. Public spaces do this. They get us out of ourselves, out of our private homes and into the public space. Here we don’t have to interact. But we do have to see and acknowledge each other, which to me seems a good thing.

Photos above were all taken today, July 6, 2014. The top photo is taken from the park’s Grand Terrace, looking down at the cascading pools below. The second photo going down is the pool at the bottom of those cascading pools. The bottom photo is of the small drum circle just beginning to the west side of the Grand Terrace. I took all the photos with the best camera I’ve ever owned, my iPhone.

 

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