The Heights

Residents of Berclair and The Heights unite to keep Gaisman Park beautiful

On Saturday, April 27, Friends of Gaisman, a community organization dedicated to improving and preserving Gaisman Park, held their second annual spring cleanup.

The event ran from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and attracted over 750 people, according to lead organizer and Friends of Gaisman founder, Chris Collier. Memphis City Mayor Jim Strickland and County Commissioner Michael Whaley also stopped by for a visit.

Volunteers built and planted flower beds, painted benches and removed trash and debris from the park.

Gaisman is one of the city’s largest parks with 24 acres of multi-purpose sports fields, walking trails, a swimming pool, tennis court and playground. It’s also home to the Gaisman Community Center.

“This park is the heart of the area.” said Sheryl Sullivan, president of the Berclair-Graham Heights neighborhood watch. “A lot of people who grew up here played here. It’s important for us to maintain it so our kids and future generations can play here as well.”

The park and center serve both Berclair and The Heights, a district that includes Graham Heights, Highland Heights, Nutbush, Mitchell Heights and other small but distinct neighborhoods.

Since its founding in 2013, Collier estimates he and the Friends of Gaisman have removed 70,000 pounds of litter from the park.

“I spent some time living outside of this area and when I returned the park was not in the state that I remembered it, so I’ve been coming out here to pick up litter every morning for six years,’ said Collier.

Related: “Grassroots leaders foster greenspaces in Berclair and The Heights

“I’m here to help the community, and make this place clean and safe,” said six-year-old event volunteer Gabriella Sapien, who was accompanied by her mother Veronica, father Jesse and sister Viviana.

“Events like this help me teach my children about the importance of contributing to their community,” said Veronica Sapien.

In addition to the cleanup, the park buzzed with a festive atmosphere as attendees poured in for a celebration and host of planned activities.

Children played on bounce houses placed on park grounds. Participants of the spring soccer league rolled a giant inflatable soccer ball across the fields and between goal posts set up to mark the beginning of the season.

An outdoor education fair included booths from Code Crew, Rhodes College, the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Southwest Community College, the Memphis Public Library and Shelby County Student Services and Family Resource Center.

Desayuno Con Libros, a group for Spanish-speaking families to share breakfast and foster a love of reading, provided outdoor storytime activities and free books in English and Spanish.

Related: “Desayuno Con Libros connects Latino families over books and breakfast

“This area is the heart of the Latinx community in Memphis. Gaisman Park is an important space for our community,” said Teresa Garcia of Desayuno Con Libros.

“We’re here to show that we are not so different and that our struggle is the same as those of others’. We all want the same things for our children and want to focus on how we can unite, instead of our differences.”

The cleanup was sponsored by Community LIFT. Memphis City Beautiful, Clean Memphis, Berclair Graham Neighborhood Watch and Heights CDC provided additional volunteers and equipment to aid renovations and park maintenance.

“We have this tagline ‘We rise by lifting others.’ It’s what we buy into,” said Jared Myers, executive director of Heights CDC, as he unloaded equipment and materials to build new flowerbeds. “So even though Gaisman is outside of our boundaries we think that we’ll do better if they do better. A lot of Heights residents benefit from this park. It’s the only park in the area.”

City of Memphis Parks and Neighborhoods, City of Memphis General Services, the Memphis Police Department and Police Service Technicians also provided services. City of Memphis Athletics contributed referees and field paint for the spring soccer league.

“There is so much love and energy here today,” said Collier as he took a moment to scan the park. “To work with these beautiful people and be a part of it is amazing.”

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Read more articles by Baris Gursakal.

Baris Gursakal is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is an Istanbul native who grew up in Memphis, and has an interest in public policy and social justice issues.