Engaging With Black History and Culture Through Play

March 28, 2024, Department, by Kraig Troxell

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Loudoun County Parks, Recreation and Community Services (PRCS) in Virginia opened a premier, one-of-a-kind destination playground in May 2023. Most notably, the playground expands on a commitment of park and recreation departments nationwide to create welcoming recreational environments that celebrate equity, inclusiveness and collaboration — positively affecting community health and well-being. Unlike most other playgrounds, this one is truly exceptional because it links the past to the hope of the future through play and imagination.

The playground is located on the grounds of the historic Douglass High School. The school was constructed in 1941 on land purchased by the African American community and was the only African American high school in Loudoun County until the end of school segregation in the county in 1968. The building is listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

As part of the building’s planned renovations, and to help realize fully the Loudoun County Public School’s vision to honor, restore and preserve the rich cultural significance of the building, Loudoun County PRCS engaged in a concept design for the playground structure that would complement the project. The renovation included the Douglass Community Center, which shares space on the historic school’s campus and is one of Loudoun County’s seven community centers operated by the department.

Celebrating Impact

The Douglass Community Center playground replacement project created a themed experience that embraces the global impact and contributions made by African Americans. Children can see themselves in any one of the iconic faces on the “Hall of Heroes” climbing blocks, inspired by the architecture of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The climber is the center structure that sets the tone for the themed playground concept. The Hall of Heroes represents climbing the building blocks to a better community.

“The playground is an incredible complement to the entire historic complex and is one of the nation’s top social and culturally conscious playgrounds,” says Steve Torpy, director of Loudoun County PRCS. “The themed playground focusing on African American history is something that had not been done before in Loudoun County, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, or to this degree in this nation,” adds Torpy.

Features of the playground include a replica of the Montgomery Bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in protest. The bus is depicted breaking through a brick climbing wall and symbolizes crashing through barriers to expose the truth. The Selma Bridge, one of the most iconic symbols of the modern struggle for civil and voting rights in the United States, is a climber replica where kids can see themselves crossing bridges to a brighter future.

Educational Play

The replicas of the Hall of Heroes, the Selma Bridge and the Montgomery Bus, as well as the space pioneer’s space capsule and the Garrett Morgan traffic signal, are all one-of-a-kind structures that promote social and culturally conscious play.

“Unity, hope and peace are the foundation that the playground is anchored on. You will find those three words stamped on the rubberized safety surface of the playground,” says Rameir Martin, assistant director of Loudoun County PRCS. “Each of those words [is] reflected in the custom structures of the playground designed to embody an authentic play experience through intentional educational components.”

Inventors, business leaders, writers and celebrities are depicted on educational panels throughout the playground. The panels capture the struggle and hope of African American people throughout our nation’s history and can be explored by children and adults alike.

Adding to the historic nature of the playground, plans are in place to install welcoming statues of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama at the entrance. The statue design for Dr. King is inscribed with the words “I Have a Dream,” and President Obama’s statue design includes his famous quote, “Your voice can change the world.”

Kraig Troxell is Communications Manager for the Loudoun County (Virginia) Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.