October 14, 2022

Frederick Douglass Park groundbreaking a celebration for neighborhood champions

Community members take part in groundbreaking for new family center at Frederick Douglass Park. -  (Jill Sheridan/WFYI)

Community members take part in groundbreaking for new family center at Frederick Douglass Park.

(Jill Sheridan/WFYI)

The long-awaited groundbreaking for the new Frederick Douglass Park family center was held this week in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. The milestone celebration for the legacy park on the near northeast side of Indianapolis is decades in the making.

Over 100 people from the neighborhood came out for the event. 

Residents have led the charge to improve the park family center that was built in the 1940s. Indianapolis City-Councilor Zach Adamson said he’s heard that call from this community for years.  

“Without fail, everybody across the board, do something about Frederick Douglass Park. That is our focus in this community,” Adamson said.

Leading the charge for investment for decades was neighborhood volunteer and champion Frankie Casel. She passed away in 2021. Her daughter Rhonda Casel held back tears when she spoke at the groundbreaking. 

She talked about her mother's many accomplishments including her commitment to find support and funds for Frederick Douglass park. 

“So that every member of this community, no matter the age or ethnicity, would have a modern facility to enjoy and be proud of,” Casel said.

The $20 million project is funded through the Circle City Forward initiative. That program invests $45 million in Indianapolis parks. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said just last year, the City marked the centennial celebration of the park.

“We reflected on nature of this park's founding during segregation and on the spirit of this park's endurance as an anchor for this entire area,” Hogsett said.

The new facility will feature sports courts, a track, a community center, a technology lab and more programming for youth. 

“It will better reflect what Frederick Douglass Park means to the City of Indianapolis,” Hogsett said.

Indy Parks worked with community members to realize what is most needed and wanted in a new facility.

The department reached out to Young Men, Inc., to make sure the youth voice was heard.  Messiah Belton is 16 years old and used to live in Martindale-Brightwood. He said it’s the programming that makes a difference for young people.

“Probably the best thing I grew up on,” Belton said, “because after school they’ll feed you, they’ll give you some input and they’ll really guide you, for real.”

James Wilson with Circle Up Indy said the commitment represents a milestone for cross-generational redevelopment in the neighborhood.

“Going way back to the '40s and '50s until now,” Wilson said, “there’s a lot of young people don’t understand just how gravitational this facility is to the community and to us and how everybody has been involved generationally and how they can continue to be involved.”

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @JillASheridan.

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