Rogers Park residents make push to rename community park to honor trailblazing Black family

Jasmine Minor Image
Friday, January 19, 2024
North Side residents push to name park after trailblazing Black family
Rogers Park residents have made a push for the Chicago Park District to rename Paschen Park after the Pollard family.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rogers Park neighbors are advocating for their community park to get name change.

Some residents want Paschen Park to become the Pollard Family Park, named after the first Black family to live in the neighborhood. However, they said the name change process hasn't been easy.

Those fighting for the name change said they want the park to be a place where families don't just play, but can learn about the impact the Pollard Family had there and around the world.

From Emmy winners to Olympic stars, Dona Vitale, a board member at the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society, said the Pollards and their eight children were known for overcoming obstacles as the first Black family in the neighborhood.

"They were accepted, but not accepted in the Luther's oral history," Vitale said. "He said his mother never answered the door without a gun in her pocket, because she was afraid of what might be on the other side."

Vitale said the fear didn't stop the Pollards from achieving their dreams. John and Amanda Pollard raised their children as successful business owners, athletes and creatives who ushered in a lot of firsts.

"The second daughter, Naomi, was the first woman, Black woman, to graduate from Northwestern University. Their oldest daughter, Artemisia, was the first Black registered nurse in Illinois."

Vitale's mission is to change the name of Paschen Park to the Pollard Family Park so the piles of letters, photos and history of the family can be better used.

"To create some kind of exhibit in the park," Vitale said.

However, she said it's been a two-year process that needs the approval of the Chicago Park District.

A district spokesperson provided a statement to ABC7, saying the proposal "is currently being reviewed by the Chicago Park District and a determination to refer for board review to initiate the naming process has not been made at this time."

"Naming the park after the Pollard family is a way to recognize, what I've learned, was a great family," said Kevin McGurn, who now lives in the former home of the Pollards.

McGurn said he didn't know who the Pollards were when he moved into their former home 25 years ago, but he said their legacy quickly became his daily inspiration.

"If I was going out the door in the morning to face a tough day, I could recognize that I had it easier than then others who left there," McGurn said.

That is the reason why he has teamed up with Vitale to make sure the family's history carries on for generations to come.

"Who a society chooses to honor says more about the current society than about the person being honored," Vitale said. "And we feel that by honoring the Pollard's that kind of reaffirms what the neighborhood wants to be and wants to stand for."

The duo said they are set to speak to the Chicago Park District board at a public meeting on Wednesday.