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A long-fought-for festival comes to Pope John Paul II Park

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
A long-fought-for festival comes to Pope John Paul II Park
Zili Misik PHOTO: HUONG NGUYEN

On Sept. 18, Pope John Paul II Park along the Neponset River in Dorchester will come alive with the sights, sounds and movements of the African diaspora. “Project Misik: A Neponset RiverYard,” is a celebration of Afro-diasporic artwork pioneered by local musician Kera Washington with the help of one of the Olmsted Equity grants intended to diversify Boston’s green spaces.

Kera Washington PHOTO: PUNKSTER PHOTOGRAPHY/BETHANY OWENS

The festival will include workshops in Haitian and Afro-Brazilian dance taught by Isaura Oliveira, a mobile vaccination clinic specifically targeting children under age 5, food trucks, and temporary public art installations by Walter Clark and Pneuhaus Studios. Live music will be provided by Cape Verdean singer Lutchinha, Haitian mizik rasin band Tjovi Ginen and Kera Washington’s all-female Afro-diasporic band Zili Misik. The day is meant to be celebratory and educational, bringing the culture of the surrounding neighborhood into Pope John Paul II Park.

The project has been a long time coming. Washington has been working to bring this festival to life for months, often fighting against pushback from the Department of Conservation and Recreation. According to Washington a DCR representative told her the event was not appropriate for Pope John Paul II Park for various and changing reasons. She reports that even community members asked why the event wouldn’t be held somewhere like Franklin Park. But the location is important.

“PJP Park is a public park, just blocks away from and in one of the most diverse neighborhoods of Boston, but also in one of the most segregated,” says Washington. The event is open to everyone, all creeds and all backgrounds, but, she says, “We particularly want to invite Black and brown folks, whom I don’t see a lot of in this park, to experience the beauty of PJP and the beauty of African diasporic arts, on the banks of the Neponset River.”

Walter Clark art installation PHOTO: KERA WASHINGTON

Thanks to Washington’s tireless efforts and the support of Boston Harbor Now, Olmsted Now, Better Beaches Program and some of the DCR staff, the project has come to fruition. The Olmsted Equity grants are specifically intended to make Boston public green spaces more inclusive to all. “Project Misik: A Neponset RiverYard,” fits that bill to a T, bringing in the local community to a park they may not feel welcome in.

“I hope people interact with black African diasporic artists and arts they would like to spend more time with,” says Washington. “I hope people think about how one way of making our Boston spaces more equitable is to go to those spaces together and make space for each other in them.”

Afro-diasporic, Dorchester, music, Olmsted Equity Grants, Pope John Paul II Park, Project Misik: A Neponset RiverYard
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