Bloomingdale resident Alexandra Williams sets up her picnic blanket for the last community movie night of the season in Crispus Attucks Park.
“Events like this are starting to come back in the park,” Williams said. “Of course, we’re still in a pandemic, but it’s nice to just walk out my backdoor and enjoy a movie with all my neighbors while still being socially distanced.”
The Bloomingdale neighborhood considers Crispus Attucks Park the hidden gem of the area. It’s a 1.4 acre pop of green tucked inside a city block framed by gray concrete sidewalks and brick row houses. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the park was an epicenter for community events like movie nights, beautification days and celebrations. But COVID-19 forced the community to put a pause on bigger events in the park, like the annual Bloomingdale Community Day and the park’s film festival, both usually attracting hundreds of people.
Though people were advised to stay home in the early months of the pandemic, community members still retreated to the park. They hosted socially-distanced picnics, art classes and smaller celebrations.
Kiko Bourne, president of the Crispus Attucks Development Corporation, says foot traffic increased during the pandemic. The CADC is a nonprofit that oversees the park’s preservation.
“We think that many Washingtonians discovered the park for the first time last year, as it was one of the safe places to gather,” she said.
Bloomingdale resident Vicky Chao, who’s lived in the neighborhood for eight years, says she found the park to be a sanctuary.
“It was definitely a safe-haven for me and other people during the pandemic, especially at the beginning,” she said. “I think it bettered people’s mental health because you could come out here, enjoy the fresh air and stretch your legs when we were all stuck in our homes.”
Unlike other parks in the city, Crispus Attucks Park is not managed by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. It relies heavily on donations and volunteers to maintain it. The annual upkeep costs thousands of dollars, according to the CADC. Bourne says there are both positives and negatives of the park being community owned.
“One positive is that we have a nonprofit board composed of diverse neighbors, some who have lived near the park for decades and others who are newer to the neighborhood, who contribute a diversity of opinions about the park’s priorities,” she says. “On the negative side, keeping the park safe and beautiful for all requires a lot of work from people who volunteer their time.”
But, Bourne says the pros outweigh the cons.
“We were able to transform an abandoned telephone company cable yard into a park specifically because we are community organized and community driven,” she said. “There would be no park if there was no community.”
Events like the park’s annual summer film festival costs hundreds of dollars to put on. Without donations, community events like this wouldn’t happen.
“I think it’s important for people to continue to volunteer and donate now and in the future, because this park completely relies on the community,” said Bloomingdale resident Valerie Yurk. “If we want to keep on having events like this, donations are essential.”
The park’s annual film festival, which aired a sing-along version of Hamilton for its final night, was postponed in 2020. With vaccinations available and cooler weather fast-approaching, community members and the CADC said it was time to bring neighborhood events back to the park.
“It’s clear that neighbors are ready to be together again and we are fortunate to have this space to bring them together,” Bourne said.