By Kacy O’Brien, Director of Programming, Creative New Jersey
We caught up with Pastor Warren Hall recently to learn more about the June 2017 city-wide celebration Asbury Park Day. Only in its second year of existence, this community celebration took on new depth and breadth when it was identified as an opportunity to help bridge the divide between the west side of Asbury Park – an historically African-American part of town, and the rapidly gentrifying east side of Asbury Park near the shore.
During our January 2017 Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration, Pastor Warren Hall and a diverse cross-section of community members were passionate about bringing the historically divided west and east sides of Asbury Park together in positive ways and started to develop a collective vision:
“We began discussing how to move the West over to the East, but what we discovered is that it would be beneficial to also brainstorm ways to move the East over to the West. Asbury Park belongs to everyone. A thriving Asbury Park provides employment, entertainment and cultural opportunities for ALL Asbury Park residents,” say the notes from that breakout session, which was titled, “How can we move the West over to the East and bridge the divide?”
Many of barriers and solutions discussed in that session centered on inclusion and equity, as well opportunities for shared experiences. One large-scale idea emerged quickly as step toward the vision of a unified Asbury Park: An inclusive Asbury Park Day.
“The incredible networking that made this possible started right there at the Creative Asbury Park Call to Collaboration,” said Hall, “and it resulted in every group mingling and cooperating with each other at Asbury Park Day.”
Between January 2017 and June 2017 this unprecedented collaboration occurred between visual artists, musicians, residents, faith leaders, nonprofits, social service organizations, the Board of Education, Meridian Health, local pharmacy business owners, and the municipal government and the City’s Fire and Police Departments, among others to host a city-wide celebration called Asbury Park Day.
In only the second year of the celebration’s existence, this new, robust collaboration aimed to bridge the divide between West and East sides of Asbury Park by hosting three sites (Springwood Park and Deliverance Temple on the west side, and Library Square Park on the east side) with community festivities.
In developing the plan for this expanded Asbury Park Day, organizations that had historically held separate community events banded together to reach a greater number of people at the same time. The collaboration also enlisted creative and inclusive programming to break down barriers for community members.
Each site had a different focus:
- Family-friendly and interactive visual arts from local artists including a “Community Crochet Jam” led by Ramekon O’Arwisters, mural painting and art demonstrations for kids with artist Larry Walker, art exhibits by local artists such as Creative Asbury Park participant Charles Trott, and a scavenger hunt
- Instrumental and choir performances in a range of musical styles from Lakehouse Academy and Triumphant Life Church, and
- Healthcare with free health screenings for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol, along with training in first aid led by a variety of providers including the Asbury Park Fire Department and Meridian Health, among others, and a “bike rodeo” that helped teach kids to ride bicycles and learn bicycle safety offered by the Alliance for a Healthier Asbury Park and EZ Ride.
Hundreds of residents came out to celebrate, including members of the Haitian, Jamaican, and African American community. A centralized, expanded 2018 Asbury Park Day is being planned so that community members can take advantage of all entertainment, health and education opportunities in the same place: the site will be at Springwood Park on the West side of the city.
Pastor Hall left us with this thought as our conversation came to a close: “We wanted to use Asbury Park Day as an opportunity to connect with our commonality – we have more things in common than we think. You’ve heard of ‘building a bridge to nowhere’? We made sure to build a bridge to somewhere that can unite us.”
Kacy O’Brien is Creative New Jersey’s Director of Programming and is a Lead New Jersey 2015 Fellow and current Victoria Emerging Leaders Program member at Rutgers University Institute for Ethical Leadership.
Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, collaboration, and inclusion by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.