Milton Pollard, 62, was sitting on his front steps one day about four years ago, staring out into the rock-filled lot across the street from his house.
“First time I saw it, it looked like a jungle,” said Pollard, a resident of the 1800 block of Bouvier Street.
So he began thinking of ways he could improve the vacant lot.
“I started thinking about the old ones who used to live on the block, so I said, ‘Maybe this could be like, a memorial garden,’” Pollard said.
With guidance from Council President Darrell L. Clarke’s office and funding from Temple Police and Temple’s Office of Community Relations, as well as various other groups, Pollard was able to bring the community memorial garden he had imagined to life.
The new garden is now equipped with benches and planters installed by Pollard himself, as well as a mural painted by Philadelphia-based artist Gabe Tiberino through the Mural Arts Program. The mural, titled “Generation II Generation,” was dedicated in a ceremony Dec. 12.
Tiberino, who is originally from North Philadelphia, came up with the visual image for the mural after talking with Pollard and others involved in the creation of the community memorial garden.
“Growth was part of the thing they wanted to capture, so I figured sunflowers were good,” Tiberino said. “Plus, it was going to be a garden.”
Tiberino also created images of children playing neighborhood games, like double dutch and rock-paper-scissors.
Near the front entrance of the garden, the mural also lists the names of those community members who have died.
Pollard wanted the mural to serve in part as a remembrance of the Bouvier Street community with which he had grown up.
“Where this mural is done, this building was the grocery store,” Pollard said. “This block was so unique, we had our own dry cleaners.”
“They’re gone now [because of] student housing,” he added.
Clarke, who addressed the crowd at the mural dedication, said that while tension has existed between the community and the university, he praises Temple for having worked with community members on this project.
Besides financial help from the university for the community garden, students also contributed to cleaning out the lot last fall and painting the mural with Tiberino this past summer.
Aaliyah-Quani Ahmad, who served as Temple Student Government’s director of local and community affairs last year, helped muster a group of students to help create the mural; some from TSG, dance organization By Any Means Necessary and the Society of Emerging African Leaders.
“The students came out and actually helped us paint the wall,” said Ahmad, a senior criminal justice major. “It was just a great day. We spent about over six hours out here just rotating students in and out.”
Tiberino said the student painters were a “great help.”
“They helped me prime the wall,” he said. “Then once I got the design up, they came back and helped me fill in a lot of the blocks of colors.”
Ahmad wanted to help create the mural as a way of doing something different for last year’s Adopt-A-Block which, she said, normally only consists of cleaning up neighborhoods and removing trash.
“I didn’t understand why we would continue to do Adopt-A-Block and continue to clean up, but not replace the trash with something,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad felt especially invested in helping beautify the community, she said, because she and her family are from and still live in North Philadelphia.
“We used Adopt-A-Block to clean up this place and beautify it, so people won’t come back and just like dirty it up, because they’ll see plants, they’ll see a mural, ” Ahmad said. “Instead they’ll want to do more to create beauty within the community.”
The garden is now open for residents and students to access, Pollard said.
He told the crowd at the dedication that there are still many more vacant lots in the neighborhood he would like to transform.
“It’s not the end—I’ve got some more ideas,” Pollard said. “Look across the street.”
Jenny Roberts can be reached at email@example.com.