Friends of Frederick Douglass Park believe the park is more than a plot of land with trees and a jungle gym. It’s a part of Martindale-Brightwood’s social fabric, where everything from weddings to sporting events to lazy Sundays take place. To return the favor, the friends provide neighborhood residents opportunities to support Frederick Douglass Park.
“It’s my second home, in reality,” Frankie Casel, the group’s president, said about the park. “… I want to always have a nice light on Douglass. I want it to shine.”
Casel co-founded Friends of Frederick Douglass Park over 20 years ago to provide options and awareness for those who want to support the park. As a nonprofit partner to Frederick Douglass Park that is independent from Indy Parks, the group hosts fundraising events and provides advertising.
“They’ve been very vital in our growth, I believe,” Kenyatta Moore, assistant manager for Frederick Douglass Park, said. “I wouldn’t know what to do without them, honestly.”
The friends’ main fundraising strategy is hosting and charging admission for events such as bingo games. When park officials need extra money for a project such as renovations, providing breakfast to lifeguards or a trip to the zoo for the daycare, they dip into the fund.
One of the organization’s biggest events is the biannual senior citizen’s dance. While the party’s name, theme and date change, it always features music, dancing, food, gifts and the naming of the dance’s king and queen. The different themes create new experiences every dance. For example, Casel remembered an attendee once wore a diaper for a Halloween-themed dance.
“She took the stage with that diaper on,” Casel said, laughing at the memory. “She was dancing all over.”
In addition to hosting their own events, Friends of Frederick Douglass Park provides support for other fundraisers. Last summer, managers held a yard sale fundraiser where they sold donated items such as clothing, appliances and bath items. On a one-day notice, the friends, with the help of five local children, printed flyers advertising the yard sale and personally delivered them to over 900 homes.
“They really came through,” Moore said. “… I still think about it. I don’t know how they did it in that short amount of time.”
Linda Minter, treasurer, said the volunteer organization continues out of appreciation of the park’s history. Frederick Douglass Park opened in 1927 as Indianapolis’ first park for African Americans. Minter remembers visiting Frederick Douglass Park as a teenager to skate, swim and socialize.
“Everybody would congregate on the circle, and that was fun time for teenagers,” Minter said. “I don’t think the businesses disliked us because we had a little money, and we could purchase things. I remember Murphy’s being on the circle and buying the popcorn -— the best caramel popcorn ever.”
Thanks to Friends of Frederick Douglass Park, the legacy continues. Amina B. Pierson, executive director of the Martindale-Brightwood Community Development Corporation, visits the park’s golf course weekly with her golfing club and appreciates what the park means for Martindale-Brightwood.
“Every neighborhood should have a place where families can go that’s nearby, that’s considered their spot, and they shouldn’t feel like it’s inferior to other parks,” Pierson said.
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.