Vernon Park ‘peace pole’ dedication highlights Countdown to Germantown Day

During Saturday’s “Countdown to Germantown Day,” Friends of Vernon Park event organizer Angela Miles took the stage with co-chair YahNe Ndgo Baker and spoke about all the good things the neighborhood has to offer, including the “emerald of Germantown” in which they stood.

“Everything Germantown has to be proud of is here,” Miles said.

To make that case, she pointed out the interactive displays and performances by local arts, crafts, music and literary groups, booths for greening efforts and urban planning and tables for Germantown’s many historic sites and schools.

Saturday afternoon’s community celebration marked the beginning of a six-month countdown to the 330th anniversary of Germantown’s founding, a milestone to be marked with an Oct. 6 party.

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Honoring the city’s poet laureate

Baker and Miles introduced poet Sonia Sanchez, dedicating a new Vernon Park “Peace Pole” to the world-renowned writer.

“In our way, we want to promote peace all the time,” Sanchez said, adding that there should be a peace pole mounted on every block.

The pole, erected near the playground on the park’s west side, is a poignant counterpoint to the 288 memorials to Philadelphians killed by gun violence in 2012, facing visitors on the park’s Germantown Avenue edge.

The new marker reads “May Peace Prevail On Earth” in English, Korean, Spanish and Arabic because, as Baker noted, “those are all well represented in the Germantown community.”

Taking center stage

A variety of acts took to the Germantown Artists Roundtable stage including singer Cassandra Xavier, reggae band Full Joy and a martial-arts demonstration from Southern Shaolin Academy.

Local writer and activist Lisa Hopkins presented a performance of poet RuNett Nia Ebo’s piece, “Lord, Why Did You Make Me Black?” with an enthusiastic ensemble of Roosevelt Middle School students, as well as performing a self-authored piece about honoring the Germantown Potter’s Field.

Then, Roosevelt eighth-grader Michelle Lindsay, 13, gave a passionate solo rendition of Etta James’s “At Last.”

Baker and some young friends gathered a large crowd for a community dance session to Beyonce’s “Move Your Body,” touting the “bonding experience [of] getting out there with your whole body and your whole spirit.”

Other offerings

Tents and tables dotting the Vernon Park pathways included G-Town Radio, Wyck House, Grumblethorpe and other historic sites and organizations and local schools.

There was a picture booth run by volunteer photographer Dana Scherer for an online slideshow of attendees that will be featured on the Friends of Vernon Park website.

Next to the playground, people of all ages used fabric paint to make squares of a community quilt that will be sewn together and then displayed in a series of Germantown businesses.

One the other side of the park, Robyn Tevah demonstrated homespun yarn-making with a wooden spinning wheel that proved extremely popular with local youngsters.

“I didn’t get up from one to two-thirty,” she said of accommodating visitors who wanted to try their hands at the craft.

Kelly Green update

At a booth for Hansberry Garden and Nature Center’s “Kelly Green” initiative at the John B. Kelly School on Pulaski Avenue, organizer Dennis Barnebey happily shared the completed landscaping plans obtained through last year’s Community Design Collaborative service grant.

He said the Kelly Green project has recently received a grant from the Penn State Hershey PRO Wellness Center to hire a physical fitness intern to work with Kelly School students, in anticipation of their new outdoor space.

The project still needs funding, and the crowds at Saturday’s event gave Barnebey the perfect chance to highlight a possible opportunity with the national non-profit, KaBOOM!, which relies on community volunteers to erect playgrounds.

Vernon Park visitors who would be willing to help out put their names on a new volunteer list.

Barnebey was also pleased when a Germantown rain-garden expert, previously unaware of the Kelly School project, stopped by the booth and agreed to get involved with the school’s new garden.

How the event came to be

According to Miles and Friends of Vernon Park President Ruth Seeley, the Countdown to Germantown Day event was made possible by a $1,500 grant from the Fairmount Park Conservancy, a $600 sponsorship from CitiBank and the donation of an outdoor stage from Philly Office Retail.

Speaking with NewsWorks, Seeley applauded the “thousands of volunteer hours” that now go into maintaining the renovated park, including student workers from Germantown High School, Crefeld School, Germantown Friends School and many adult community members.

Seeley noted that “bad stories” about parks can get ingrained on the community consciousness — or, on the other hand, “lots of people don’t even know this is here.”

But Seeley described the space as “a nice oasis in the summer,” full of shady grass and trees.

During the hot summer months, “it’s amazing how much families with low resources depend on a park,” she added.

Upcoming fundraiser

For the Friends of Vernon Park, Saturday’s event also afforded the opportunity to spread word about the group’s upcoming Trolley Car Diner fundraiser.

From May 27 to June 2, patrons who bring a Friends of Vernon Park voucher will see 15 percent of their bill donated to the organization. (Visitors to the group’s Saturday booth picked up the vouchers, which will also be distributed around town in advance of the fundraiser.)

With a successful Countdown event under their belts, the Friends of Vernon Park and their many event partners are just beginning to look to this fall’s festivities, which may see participating sites scattered across Germantown, instead of one centralized party.

But for now, Seeley was glad Vernon Park could be a “catalyst” for the celebration.

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