A local creative agency, an independent artist and the Mecklenburg County Department of Parks and Recreation have teamed up to “reactivate” LC Coleman Park in Washington Heights.
On Saturday, neighbors of all ages chatted with the park’s design team about the proposed renovations around free smoothies, waffles, decaf and donuts. Artists performed a live spray-painting demonstration while a DJ provided a soundtrack as children fired hoops, blew bubbles and played Frisbee.
The man behind the park
LC Coleman was a community activist for the improvement of black neighborhoods in Charlotte. He graduated from Johnson C. Smith University before serving in the United States Navy. He also served as president of the hardware local of the District 65 union in New York City before returning to his home in Washington Heights in the late 1960s.
Lynn Coleman Hudson, daughter of LC Coleman, said her father owned a small sundries store on Oaklawn Avenue. He noticed that the kids who frequented his store needed more places to play that weren’t segregated by race.
Historic West End
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“This park required a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” she said.
It wasn’t until Coleman took busloads of black residents to southern parts of Charlotte to play softball that “they started paying attention,” she said.
Coleman fought to incorporate city parks, advocated for the elderly and disabled on the West Side, and organized to provide hot meals and reduced bus fares to his neighbors.
With the help of Marvin Smith, another known black Charlotte activist, the two created several neighborhood coalitions for collective bargaining power with the city, which resisted the demands of black Charlotte residents.
Coleman died in 2015 at the age of 92.
LC Coleman Park is one of more than 90 county parks identified for investment. It was given a D or “Poor” grade due to poor accessibility due to steep grades, inconsistent paving, and old and worn equipment.
The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners has allocated $2 million from federal Covid funds, plus $850,000 in equity, to improve the park. The work is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023.
The park is approximately 19 acres surrounded by woods and green space. It has a playground, two basketball courts and a recreational field with a softball field. Although the grounds are not regulation size, the design team proposed an open, grassy “multi-use” space for picnics, playing sports, dog walking or other activities.
The park is also home to a creek that leads to the Stewart Creek watershed.
Community members shared their feedback on the proposed designs with handwritten sticky notes. Among the sought-after features, the most popular are a skate park, pickleball and tennis courts, and a public meeting space or amphitheater.
Community members also said they wanted a paved walking path.
Activate the community
Martingly Nelson, executive director of ARC Collective, said Connect at Coleman is about “serving the community” and “doing something more positive”.
“We try to find community leaders and activate them,” he said, “instead of making plans without community input.”
Nelson said he had heard complaints that there were not enough benches and bathrooms were always locked.
Another important component is preserving the park’s history, said Mattie Marshall, president of the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association.
Mikayla Binter contacted Park and Rec. after participating in a recent community cleanup at LC Coleman.
“The goal is to get design feedback and community engagement,” she said. Binter and Nelson plan to host a 3-on-3 basketball tournament next spring.
Although Binter lamented the small number of community members who crossed over, she said it was “cool to see a group of people from different worlds coming together.”
“It’s very productive,” she said.