Back in the late 1990s, I was president of the LaFollette Park Advisory Council. LaFollette was a park that had been, in my humble opinion, identified by certain individuals to be a “takeover” location. With two gyms, a swimming pool, an auditorium, and surrounded by a community that didn’t see and still doesn’t see the value in it, it was ripe for the picking.
The area manager had an agenda for the park and it didn’t include the people living in the surrounding community. LaFollette had already barely survived an attempt by former alderman Percy Giles to turn it into a cultural center which would have been his fiefdom to control money, jobs and opportunities. Then there was the attempt to encase it in wrought-iron fencing, which many parks did get. However the constant response from the advisory council was that in the event of a shooting, the shooters could stand at the entrance/exit of the fence and the people would be slaughtered. Without a fence, they can run in every direction. It was a sad reasoning to go against a fence, but an accurate one.
One Wednesday summer evening, there was a special meeting of the advisory council with the area manager. As I spoke passionately about what the community wanted, the area manager looked around at the almost empty meeting room and although she didn’t chuckle in my face, I can imagine what she was thinking.
I felt dejected because I had personally gone around to people living in the vicinity of the park to ask them to please come out. And that is how I met Bishop Carey L Sparks. His church sat on Potomac just west of Laramie. I had explained to him what was going on with the park and although he sympathized with my efforts, Wednesday evening was his Bible study. I nodded my understanding because the park district had purposely scheduled the meeting for that day and time, and I knew in my heart and soul that the bad timing wasn’t just a coincidence.
I was about ready to concede defeat, when I looked out the window and saw Bishop Sparks leading a line of his parishioners down Laramie and straight into the park building. As the room filled with people, I felt empowered. Bishop Sparks had vindicated me. Now the tables were turned and whatever plans had been on the manager’s agenda were no longer going to occur.
Bishop Sparks eventually relocated back down South. And on Monday, March 1, while walking in Memphis, Tennessee, he was struck and killed by a car. Rest in peace, Bishop Carey L Sparks.