By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Rickia Smith, Birmingham resident, and her 7-year-old son, Zion, were at Legion Field Friday evening along with more than a thousand who streamed in throughout the evening for the inaugural “Peace in the Park” initiative that kicked off a series of summer-long activities to reduce crime and broaden relations between public safety officials and young adults.
Smith said the event was welcomed in the city.
“This is a good idea for bridging the gap between the community and the police and to get to know some of them and the firemen personally because they have lives too . . . this is not just their job but it’s also their life,” she said.
Candice Gardner, who came out with her granddaughter, Kimora, said “I think it’s a good event for the community to get the kids out and give them something to do and keep them out of trouble,” she said. “I think it will continue to be a success because [of] the participation and the crowd turnout.”
City leaders said they wanted to make elected officials, police and fire personnel accessible to the public and provide activities for the youth.
“We don’t have to let violence dictate what happens in this city,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “In our culture in America, violence is often promoted, so I think as a city, we need to be intentional about promoting peace and what better way to do it than have folks from all over the city of Birmingham come out, be a part, have access to various activities, have access to our police chief, myself, interact with each other, learn from each other, grow with each other and have fun. This is our city and I believe peace can prevail.”
Friday’s event included three-on-three basketball between the city’s police and fire department, hip-hop fitness and line dancing classes, rides, face painting, balloon artists, a video game truck, food and public safety vehicles.
Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith said community engagement is one part of promoting peace citywide.
“Over the past year, we’ve been working on several initiatives to promote peace within the city and it’s more about community engagement,” he said. “We recognize that we can’t fight crime just by enforcement alone, you fight crime by building relationships in the community and also working with the community because it takes a holistic approach to resolving crime in the city.”
Chief Smith said the department also has a “Bigs in Blue” program where 35 officers have become Big Brothers and Big Sisters mentors. “So we’re doing a number of things to resolve crime in the city by enforcement and the second part is community engagement,” he said.
“Peace in the Park’’ will alternate locations between Legion Field and rec centers every Friday through Aug. 9. However, no events will be held on Friday, July 5 or Friday, July 26. Basketball, swimming, music and games will be offered at the rec centers.
Legion Field will be open on Friday nights this summer to provide a place where community members can participate in recreational activities. Recreation centers were then added to allow for more participation.
“We want people to work with us, with our fire department and the mayor and we’re all out here to show that Birmingham is a different place and we’re writing a new chapter today,” Chief Smith said.
The next “Peace in the Park” event will be held Friday, June 21 at Memorial Park, 524 Sixth Ave. South from 6 to 9 p.m. with basketball, swimming, music and games. The next event at Legion Field is scheduled for Friday, June 28.
For more information visit www.birminghamal.gov/peace.