Program The Parks MKE
In the summer of 2018, a large number of youth in the city of Milwaukee began congregating at Moody Park. Unable to utilize the totality of the youth space available at the park; violence broke out amongst the kids. Multiple cars were reported stolen in the area, and clashes with police occurred.
This caught the attention of 34-year-old Milwaukee native and community activist Vaun L. Mayes, who is well known across the state of Wisconsin as a social justice and civil rights advocate. Mayes is the creator and founder of Program the Parks MKE, a nonprofit organization that focuses on violence intervention and prevention amongst Milwaukee’s youth.
The rise in disturbance at Moody Park motivated Mayes to move Program the Parks MKE to the Amani neighborhood and make Moody Park their base of operation. At the time, Program the Parks was still active at Sherman Park due to the uprising that occurred there in 2016, following the police shooting of Sylville Smith.
“Tay” Jackson’s Partnership
The decision to move Program the Parks to Moody Park crossed the paths of Mayes and a young activist in her own right, Quanita “Tay” Jackson for the very first time.
What would ensue is a relationship and bond that would grow between the two as they both shared the same goal of bringing peace to Moody Park.
“Tay was one of those ones that came up to us and was like “who are y’all, what is this?” said Mayes referencing the first time Program the Parks arrived at Moody. “She instantly wanted to be a part of it and help. Which is kind of unusual; usually we have to build relationships, but she instantly was like “yeah I want to be a part of this.”
“She would help spread the word to different young people, talking to people about what we’re doing, or kind of giving us a feel of who everybody was through her already built relationships.”
Mayes and Program the Parks spent up to 4 days a week consistently at Moody: organizing various events and cleanups in the area. One of those events was a 3 on 3 basketball tournament that Mayes and Jackson planned together.
“I kind of had the conversation with Tay and a bunch of other young people, that the premise for the tournament was to draw people from the surrounding area, and just do a unified approach through music and sports,” said Mayes.
“She helped promote the registration,” explained Mayes, referring to Tay. “If you look on her page(Facebook), she shared the flyer probably more than we did; and used her relationship with other young people to promote this event and encourage involvement.”
“We considered her an organizer and facilitator,” he continued. “Because she gave us a lot of input and was the main young person involved in the planning.”
Overall the tournament went off as a success, and through his own funding, Mayes was able to provide monetary prizes for adults and children to incentivize even more participation.
On August 25, 2019, just one day after the basketball tournament, Mayes received a phone call that Tay had been shot and killed in Moody Park.
“When I got that call the next day, I didn’t know they meant her,” sighed Mayes. “I hope they didn’t mean the Tay that we were working with.”
“The fact that it happened literally the next day, I almost felt responsible in a sense because we weren’t there, and we probably should’ve been there that day,” he continued. “We probably would’ve been able to offer her a ride.”
Mayes immediately began thinking of ways that he could honor Jackson’s work in the community and his first idea was to remodel the design of Moody Park to pay tribute to Jackson.
“The idea just popped in my mind; I want to re-do this park,” said Mayes.
“I do a lot of work with the Office of Violence Prevention and ended up connecting with TeAngelo Cargile Jr (the Youth injury and Violence Prevention Coordinator),” explained Mayes. “And I know Antoine Carter (the Director of Neighborhood Partnerships at Imagine MKE), and it kind of started with us 3.”
Conversations to redo Moody Park began on the day of Jackson’s funeral, and Mayes, along with TeAngelo and Antoine, realized a few months into the planning that they would need to narrow down the scope of the project and home in on an area at Moody Park to redesign. They decided that initially repainting all 3 basketball courts was most important.
“We had to prioritize parts of the project that were the most simple to do,” explained Mayes. “The re-doing of the basketball courts is the most major part; that’s the part that is going to take the most money, and then that will be followed by the actual planning of Tayday which is the continuation of the tournament.”
Art As A Form Of Therapy
Upon completion of the court redesign, Mayes hopes that the new look court will help encourage more kids to come to the park.
“Art is a form of therapy and people are drawn to beautiful things and places,” said Mayes
“After what happened to her (Tay), a lot of young people came to the park to put things on her memorial spot,” Mayes explained. “To me this would be something more on a positive to draw them back to honor her memory.”
“From my perspective Tay was a person that represented peace and unity,” said Mayes. “She helped us with trying to get young people to come together. I think what she stood for is a large piece of what we’re trying to promote; as much as we can, let’s promote positive messages of non-violence.”