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On Common Ground; Exploring parks and social justice through F.L.Olmsted and Dr. King

By May 10, 2023August 17th, 2023No Comments


Buffalo, N.Y. – In closing the 200th birth year of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy (BOPC) invited the public to an important and timely community conversation which intersects the social justice missions of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  (1929-1968). On Common Ground: Exploring parks and social justice through F.L. Olmsted and Dr. King was free and open to the public and took place on May 16th from 6pm to 8pm at the Buffalo Museum of Science auditorium.

Both leaders of their generations, Olmsted designed parks for all people and envisioned Buffalo to be a “city within a park”; King led the charge for social and racial justice throughout North America and around the world. At this community conversation, we explored how Mr. Olmsted’s philosophies and Dr. King’s values intersect and align, as together we considered the role of parks and greenspaces through the lens of equity and justice. This contemplative and creative dialogue reflected on 100 years between these visionary men.

“Buffalo is blessed to have one of, if not the only, parks in the nation designed by Olmsted and renamed for Dr. King,” said Stephanie Crockatt, Executive Director, BOPC. “This park is as iconic as these great men, and the future of all our parks must consider their principled past.”

BOPC invited renowned experts and scholars on Dr. King and Mr. Olmsted to share their perspectives with the community as part of this inspiring conversation.  Sara Zewde is founding principal of Studio Zewde, a design firm in New York City practicing landscape architecture, urbanism, and public art.  Sara designed and leads “Cotton Kingdom, Now,” a Harvard course which retraces F.L. Olmsted’s travels through the South as written in his 1861 book “The Cotton Kingdom.”  Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, is a scholar on Dr. King and Assistant Professor specializing in African American History at The University of Colorado Boulder. Her research specializes in public memory of history, Black culture, and the Civil War.

Brother Clifford Bell of the Buffalo African American Museum opened by reflecting on the values of King and Olmsted as he led the invocation and a prayer in acknowledgement of the victims of the May 14th shooting.  Jillian Hanesworth, the first ever Poet Laureate of Buffalo, New York, a community organizer, recording artist and activist recited her poem Paint My People Green and acted as emcee, and Wil Green, Director of Outreach & Community Engagement at the University at Buffalo moderated this important conversation.

This event was sponsored by M&T Bank and The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, and in partnership with the Buffalo Museum of Science and Buffalo African American Museum.


About the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is the first nonprofit organization in the nation, through a unique public-private partnership, to manage, operate and maintain an entire urban park system consisting of more than 850 acres of beautifully designed historic parks, parkways and circles. The Conservancy is an independent not-for-profit, community organization whose mission is to steward Buffalo’s historic Olmsted park system to welcome and benefit all. To accomplish this, the Conservancy collaborates with community and strategic partners, advocates for quality parks for all, and enhances the park system through beautification, maintenance, and capital projects. More than 2.5 million visits occur in Buffalo’s Olmsted Park system annually for recreation, relaxation, and rejuvenation.

The Buffalo Olmsted Park System includes:

Six parks: Cazenovia, Delaware, Front, Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside, and South

Seven parkways: Bidwell, Chapin, Lincoln, McKinley, Porter, Red Jacket, and Richmond

Eight landscaped traffic circles: Agassiz, Colonial, Ferry, Gates, McClellan, McKinley, Soldiers, and Symphony

Smaller spaces: Days, Heacock and Prospect


Sara Zewde

Sara Zewde (pronounced Zoe-dee) is founding principal of Studio Zewde, a design firm in New York City practicing landscape architecture, urbanism, and public art. Named to Architectural Digest’s AD100 and an Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of New York, the firm is celebrated for its design methods that sync culture, ecology, and craft. In parallel with practice, Sara serves as Assistant Professor of Practice at Harvard University Graduate School of Design and is currently writing a book on her research retracing Frederick Law Olmsted’s journeys through the Slave South. Sara holds a master’s of landscape architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a master’s of city planning from MIT, and a BA in sociology and statistics from Boston University.


Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders

Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders was born and raised in the small rural town of Huger (pronounced HUGH-GEE) in the South Carolina Lowcountry.  She received her B.A. in Political Science from Wake Forest University, an M.A. in Human Rights Studies from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in History with a specialization in African American History.  She is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado Boulder where she teaches courses on African American history and U.S. history. Her research encompasses Civil War memory, Black Southern history, Black radicalism, and public memory in the United States.  Her work has been featured in The Journal of African American History, The Washington Post, Black Perspectives, NPR and she has appeared on Al Jazeera, Colorado Public Radio, and the BBC World News as well as various podcasts including American History Tellers, Plot of Land, and the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Podcast.  She was recently awarded a 2023 American Council on Learned Societies (ACLS) fellowship and will spend the next year completing her first book project tentatively titled, “They Knew What The War Was About: African Americans and the Memory of the Civil War” which explores Black Americans’ long engagement with the memory of the Civil War and the myths of the Lost Cause.


Clifford Bell

Clifford Bell, is the Chairman of the Buffalo African American Museum Committee (BAAM), and former Chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration Committee. He was one of the founders of the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Trust Fund, creators of the memorial bust in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Buffalo, New York, and chairperson of the Celebration Committee.  Known as “Brother Bell”, he is a community activist in Buffalo, New York, a former City of Buffalo Council member, and has received over 100 awards and recognitions during his more than 70 years of community service. After 55 years in the dry cleaning business, Brother Bell joined the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College as a Business Counselor. In 1998, as the Director of Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation, he led a delegation of 55 people to Lille, France, and personally represented five Buffalo businesses in international trade.

Brother Bell has the Honorary Title of Paramount Chief of the African World and has performed at Libation Ceremonies in English, French and Spanish in several countries such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, France and USA.

He was born and raised in Buffalo and has dedicated his entire life to the betterment of Buffalo by working tirelessly with City, State, local business, and countless community groups.


Jillian Hanesworth

Jillian Hanesworth, is the first ever Poet Laureate of Buffalo, New York, a community organizer, a recording artist and activist. She was born and raised on the east side of Buffalo, New York where she developed a vision to use art and advocacy to help her community reimagine justice and work together to create a system where all people can thrive.

Currently Jillian travels the country performing and speaking on various topics including art for activism, the impacts of storytelling and finding your purpose and creating your lane. Jillian also oversees “Buffalo Books”, a nationally recognized program which aims to improve access to culturally relevant books for residents of the east side of Buffalo.


Wil Green

Has worked for almost 3 decades in the education and not-for-profit fields. Born and raised in Buffalo’s East Side and a graduate of Buffalo Public Schools. Wil currently works in the UB Graduate School of Education as Director of Outreach and Community Engagement. He owns and operates Tremani Solutions, LLC an Educational Consulting Company that focuses on building cultural and racial literacy and addressing cultural and racial conflicts that happen in schools. Prior to taking up his current position, Wil served as the WNY Regional Director of the NYS Network for Youth Success and the Director of School and Community Partnerships/Center for Urban Education at Canisius College.