When Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman stepped to the microphone at a Near Northside Indianapolis park on an overcast afternoon in early April, she told her audience they were sitting on "a treasure."
Martin Luther King Jr. Park marks the spot where Robert F. Kennedy, who was an town on a campaign tour, mustered in impromptu speech. [See "Indy's Civil Rights Mantle" for more on that night and the King-Kennedy legacy.]
"The day we lost Martin Luther King Jr.," Skillman said, "Robert Kennedy, here on these grounds, did a great service for our city and our state. His speech will always be remembered as one of kindness and comfort... It was a steady voice that kept so many grieving hearts from acting out in a riot ...
"... His words changed our capital then and changed many hearts. Those words still ring true today and I know they will for generations to come. But I think we'll always need to be reminded to do what is right. I think we still have our work cut out for us on that front."
The park helps to promote that focus by preserving a physical manifestation of righteous spirit.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park has a rich history in our community," said Jen Pittman, Indy Parks marketing director. "By being home to the memorial behind us we'll be sure we continue that tradition. [The "Landmark for Peace" memorial by Indianapolis designer Greg Perry and sculptor Dan Edwards at Martin Luther King Jr. Park memorializes the spot where Kennedy spoke and the spirit of his message.]
"We also continue that tradition by offering educational programming and recreational opportunities all with the intent of continuing to shape of city into a place that promotes peace and neighborhoods by valuing all who call Indianapolis home."
Indy Parks is celebrating its centennial this year. While the King-Kennedy connection is unique to the corner of 17th and Broadway, the more than 200 parks within the system offer ample opportunities to cultivate deeper connections to the city's history.
A recent name change at the park at West 16th Street and Fall Creek Park to Lt. Junior Grade Graham Edward Martin Park offers an example of how residents can work with the city to help celebrate local history in public spaces.
MuataRameses remembers sitting in his U.S. history class at Crispus Attucks when he discovered his teacher, Mr. Martin, was actually a subject in his history book.
"He had a low profile, he was a low-key modest guy but he had an extraordinary life," Rameses said.
Martin coached and taught at Attucks for a quarter of a century, but before that he was a member of the Golden Thirteen, the first group of black Navy men to become commissioned officers. Despite being forced to study by candlelight at night in the bowels of the boats, Rameses said the team members logged the highest scores on the officer candidate's tests that their Naval superiors had ever logged.
Martin also broke color barriers on the IUPUI football and track teams.
Rameses and his daughter, Imani, worked to have the park renamed in his honor. A road near the Naval Amory will soon carry Martin's name, as well.
Atop the cultural legacies embodied throughout the system, each park offers an opportunity to connect to neighborhoods and nature.
Indy Parks has issued two celebratory challenges to the community: One is to visit 100 parks to celebrate the 100 years of the city parks service. The other is travel 100 miles within the park system.
Explorers can discover the Hot Tot Lot, Indy's smallest park, or Soap Box Derby Hill, home to the nation's longest soap box derby track.
The site also includes suggestions for activities to do on 100 summer days.
A sampling of these options includes trying the speed slide at Bethel Park Aquatic Center, playing a round of Frisbee golf at Brookside Park, meeting a raptor at Eagle Creek Ornithology Center, listening to the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra at Holliday Park, or rallying for peace at Douglass Park.