The new Gwendolyn Brooks Memorial Park can be found on the south edge of the Western Illinois University campus in Macomb. The site formerly housed the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center.
Members of the Brooks family and Black Alumni Council were among those who participated in the dedication ceremony, which took place on a sunny and warm mid-June afternoon.
Brooks’ daughter, Norah Brooks Blakely, said the new park is a way of keeping her mother’s legacy alive.
“It was important to her that people continue. That it wasn’t just about her writing her work or reading her work. It was also what she could do to help writers of any age -- young people especially -- and she was certainly concerned with and committed to the furtherance of Black culture,” Brooks Blakely said.
WIU Alumna Kimberly Lightford, who is the Illinois Senate Majority Leader, said the Brooks Cultural Center was a place where Black students felt comfortable and could talk about their experiences and the challenges they faced.
‘’There was always an assumption that because you were Black you all thought alike and you behaved the same. But that was not the truth,” Lightford said.
“Many of us came from different parts of the state and we had to find ways to get to know one another as well, and be a support system to each other. And that mostly happened in the space of the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center.”
Lightford considered Gwendolyn Brooks as an inspirational figure and said she spent a lot of time at the center while she was a WIU student.
She said she worked to ensure Western held onto the site even after the cultural center was about to be torn down and then helped secure funding for the park project.
At the dedication, she encouraged everyone to read Brooks’ poetry to better understand the Black community and its culture.
The Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center at the WIU Macomb campus is now housed in the Multicultural Center along with Casa Latina, Unity, the Women’s Center, and other organizations.
About Gwendolyn Brooks
Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read writers of 20th-century American poetry. She was the first Black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize.
She was the first Black woman to serve as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, and she was Poet Laureate of Illinois for 30 years.
Brooks visited Western numerous times. 50 years ago she became the first recipient of WIU’s Honorary Doctorate.
You can read a bit more about Brooks and WIU here.
Tri States Public Radio produced this story. TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.