Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last spoke in New Jersey on March 27th, 1968 at Bethel AME Church in Paterson, just eight days before he was assassinated in Memphis. Across from the church, two city-owned lots had been designated for a memorial park in 2008, to commemorate his visit and his life, but lack of funding stalled the effort.
In 2018, the mission was re-energized and reengaged. Veronica Fernandez-Rogers, working with AmeriCorps and Paterson Habitat for Humanity, served as project manager to orchestrate a host of contributors. Rich community engagement was driven through neighborhood feedback meetings, all anchored by constant involvement by the Bethel AME Church leadership and members.
Rutgers University students contributed design concepts and plans while the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, powered by funding by SMART, designed and installed a swale and rain garden.
On August 28th, 2019, the park opened to the public, exactly 56 years after King’s I Have A Dream speech. “It really has been a collaborative effort,” said Fernandez-Rogers. “This park really is a product of the community. Everyone can claim it and no one can lay claim to it.”