The first weekend in June was full of activity. Just downtown, Sonoma County Pride paraded through the city of Santa Rosa. Pride, a celebration that commemorates the Stonewall Uprising in which police officers raided the Stonewall Inn and the mostly gay patrons fought back against the brutality, is widely regarded as the catalyst for international queer social movements. Pride observes this and many other iterations of grassroots resistance by the LGBTQ+ community and honors the lives of people who fought for liberation from state and police violence, political discrimination, hostility.
A few miles away from Pride, people gathered to celebrate and honor the memory of a different, yet connected, struggle for justice. In 2013, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was fatally shot after a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy mistook Andy's replica gun for a real one. Andy's death gained national attention and generated more conversations about police violence and brutality. Andy's family and the community worked with the city to design a space that welcomed the community and memorialized Andy's life. Through these efforts, Andy's Unity Park now sits on the corner at the end of a street that runs through the Moorland neighborhood in Southwest Santa Rosa.
Since Moorland is considered a fringe island and not technically part of the City of Santa Rosa, the Moorland residents do not receive the same services as people who are represented by the City. Instead, the County is responsible for unincorporated areas and makes it difficult to provide consistent resources and timely service. After Andy's death, City support for annexing unincorporated island neighborhoods in the name of public safety was reestablished and the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) was created. A few years later, neighborhoods like Roseland and West Third soon became part of the city, albeit, without Moorland.
[Related: Roseland Neighborhood Annexation Celebration]
I remember taking the school bus past what this the park used to be--an empty dirt lot. When I made it to the park that afternoon, I was surprised by how large it was and how many people had shown up for the celebration. Local politicians shook hands and passed out voting information for the then-upcoming election. Employees from the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department and LandPaths walked around greeting visitors and handing out event programs. I joined the crowd toward the back and read the words on the front of the program: Peace, Health, Community, and Life.
Andy's Unity Park dedication ceremony included speeches, music, food, and tabling by organizations. To summarize the sentiment expressed by the speakers: something tragic was used to create something beautiful.
The park has a play structure, a BBQ and picnic area, and even a place for skateboarding. The wide open spaces are great for flying kites, playing soccer, or just lying in the grass. My favorite part of any community space is where there are plants, and Andy's Park has a community garden complete with flowers, edible plants, a small sitting area.
Angelica Salas, Sonoma State University alumna and educator, also values the community garden as a space of learning and growing as a community. "It was great helping in the garden project, my children and students got to plant some seeds and pulled weeds. It was a representation of a metaphor while helping in the process" she says. "The seeds represent a new beginning for our children and youth and the weeds represent the negativity of politics that continue to appear in the nation. However, we continue fighting in peace and growing as a community for a better future." And I want that, too.
After the speeches, the audience was asked to place the flowers we had been given on the memorial that greeted many of us as we entered and the dedication ceremony ended with an invitation to eat, play games, and enjoy the park. I went over to the buckets of fresh flowers, picked up some asters blooming vibrant pink and I placed my cluster of flowers on the top of the forming pile. As I took pictures, a man who was also paying his respects said aloud, "This is the best memorial I've ever seen."