A new community park in the Far Eastside of Indianapolis is named after a local nonprofit leader. The Ross Foundation partnered with national nonprofit Kaboom to create the green space and playground in an area that suffers from years of disinvestment. Derris Ross showed off the new park to WFYI's Jill Sheridan.
Derris Ross: This is about restoring hope back into a hopeless community. I used to be a leader of a gang, it changed my whole life around. I lost 52 friends to gun violence now. And so when people see that, what I'm doing right now with my nonprofit organization giving back in the community, and having a park named after me... They start to see themselves differently, view themselves differently, especially growing up in a neighborhood such as 42nd and Post Road.
Jill Sheridan: You know, this neighborhood has struggled in recent decades. I'm sorry to hear that you've lost over 50 riends to gun violence. What does a green space like this really do? You know, and having neighborhood investment also means, you know, thinking of parks.
Ross: Yeah, I think it's so key, because it shows that we care, and shows that we're not giving up on our neighborhood. And we counteracting the narrative, we're controlling our narrative, we're really saying, 'No, we're from this community, it's up to us to save our community.'
It's kind of like put in that accountability on ourselves, to take ownership of the issues and problems in our own communities. And so stop waiting on, you know, people to come in from outside of our communities to be the change, we want to see. No. We could be the change, we want to see it.
So this green space is a symbol of empowerment, for communities, who usually don't see themselves have been successful. It doesn't matter how small or big you are social economic status, you can still make a difference. You know, whether it's cleaning up the neighborhood, whether it's running for office, or whether it's building your park, and no one's role is devalued. Everyone should be equal to treated fairly, we deserve to have the same resources as every other community.
Sheridan: You know, we've struggled to have grassroots organizations like yours really connect with the resources they made to make the change that you want to see in your community.
Ross: On the good side of COVID-19 happening, they it was exposure that happened between non traditional organizations and traditional organizations. They realized that traditional organizations, that's non grassroots, they have the capacity or the ability to meet people where they are. And they saw that the significance in the importance of having grassroots organization that was boots on the ground, that had the relationships already in the community, where they could easily get these resources and services funneled to the people who's directly impacted the most.
We have to really be sentimental that, you know, grassroots organizations are usually left out of the discussion, till this day, and we got to keep on pushing to have that critical conversation about how do we reach all people.
Sheridan: What is in your heart when you see you know, kids out here playing?
Ross: To not give up, you know, when you get discouraged, or you feel defeated, because we all suffer in some way from mental health and trauma and so forth. Especially Black and Brown communities.
Just having a park like this is a small win we should celebrate. They highlight all the negativity that's going on in our neighborhoods. But we don't see too much positivity happening in our neighborhoods we are highlighting, so we deserve to celebrate this.
This is a win for the community, not just for the Ross Foundation but for the entire Far East of Indianapolis, for the entire Black and Brown communities, because this is the first public park on 42nd and Post Road.
This is just phase one. And we have phase two coming along with our community center. The Ross Center is gonna be right next door opening up Labor Day. And in phase three, we will be building basketball courts. It takes a village.
Sheridan: It's a beautiful space. Thank you so much.
Ross: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you.