By Kelly Livingston
After months of work, the College Park Restorative Justice Steering Committee has presented their suggestions to the city council.
At the Nov. 2 council worksession, the committee laid out their findings as well as a framework for establishing the city’s Restorative Justice Commission, which will be tasked with addressing harms done to the Lakeland community, a historically African American neighborhood in College Park.
Per the committee’s recommendation, the 15 to 21 member commission’s work would take place over six years, with each city-appointed member serving a two-year term.
Lakeland was established in 1890. At that time, “The African Americans that came to Lakeland came from various locations in the state of Maryland and beyond,” committee member Violetta Sharp-Jones explained during the work session. “And we can say through our research, and our oral histories, that they all were on the move to look for a better place to raise their families.”
The community was located close to Paint Branch and Indian Creek, an area that struggled with frequent flooding. According to the steering committee’s report, by 1961, a substantial number of homes were not up to the housing standards of the time. Lakelanders sought flood remediation from the City of College Park, which received federal funding to address the issue. In 1970, the city implemented the Lakeland Urban Renewal Plan.
The resulting plan, the committee report says, “…resulted in the destruction of ⅔ of the Lakeland community displacing more than 100 families.”
“If you go back and look at the history of Lakeland, there are several instances where folks felt that movements by the City of College Park were simply processes that would lead to them losing their land,” committee chair Maxine Gross said in a June interview with the College Park Here & Now. “That’s the primary opposition that folks had to urban renewal … they thought that it was a ploy to take their land.”
The committee’s report included several recommendations for commission activities over a potential six-year timeline; some of these recommendations are seeking and facilitating community engagement, holding truth-telling events, publishing a recorded history of harm, naming new and renaming old city features and establishing a memorial space.
“There are a lot of folks in the College Park community that may not be aware of this history,” Mayor Patrick Wojahn said. “We’re doing what we can to get the word out, to get a better understanding of what happened with the urban renewal process.”
He explained that the establishment of the commission will give people the chance to talk about what happened and, “…make clear that there was real harm caused to families, caused to the community, caused to people as a result of what happened here.”
Councilmembers agreed at the work session that the steering committee’s efforts demonstrate the need for the Restorative Justice Commission. Following the work session, city staff will put together a resolution to formally establish the six-year commission.
Mayor Wojahn requested that the resolution be brought before the council as soon as possible.