LA RIVIERA, Calif. — On Monday, it will be a year since 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot to death in his grandmother’s backyard by two police officers who say they believed he was holding a gun. Clark was unarmed – and black.
Since then, the phrase “grandma’s backyard” in Sacramento has been associated with that event, which has sparked protests, marches, anger and deep sadness.
But Rev. Kevin Kitrell Ross, of Unity of Sacramento congregation, wants to reclaim those words as he builds an “outdoor urban green space for Racial Healing and Reconciliation,” according to a brochure on his project.
"We want to create a safe space that's not a public park but that's something that allows us to have our own space for artists and activists and clergy and community and kids from all backgrounds to be able to foster new friendships and normalize diversity,” Ross told ABC10 News.
He's calling the space "Grandma's Backyard."
"In the wake of the Stephon Clark shooting death, a grandmother's backyard became a place that is reminiscent of a murder, a death,” he said, “so we are reclaiming ‘grandma's backyard’ from this tragic scene to the safest place on the planet."
It’s a needed public space in this part of town – La Riviera, nestled between Sacramento to the west, Rancho Cordova to the east, Rosemount to the south and Arden-Arcade to the north.
"There is a ton of poverty and need in Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova and Carmichael,” said Katie McCleary, who is writing the grants and proposals for the Grandma’s House project. “Vulnerable young people who live around here are transient. They don't have very many places to go. There's really not a lot of opportunity in this particular section of our city, and so this would be a place where they could go, whether or not they view themselves as part of the congregation here. It is open for everyone."
Grandma’s Backyard’s stated goal of being “more than a park,” but rather “a healing oasis for traumatized youth” and a place to “build bridges of understanding, heal racial wounds, and celebrate our diversity” begins with—conversation.
"I teach my children to be 'color brave' and not 'colorblind,'” Ross said. “That cultural and color curiosity creates a degree of compassion in people, so I think color bravery is the key. 'Who are you? Tell me more about where you come from.' Have the encounter – invite somebody over to dinner or go to someone's home for dinner."
A fundraiser Friday night moved Unity closer to its financial goal for Grandma's Backyard.
"We want to raise $250,000 to pull this off, along with some volunteer support,” Ross said.
McCleary said she thinks the cost could be even higher.
"I think it’s going to take at least $500,000 to $1 million or more, and so we can do that in Sacramento,” she said. “We have to transform sort of a dilapidated parking lot into what would feel like a home, nice environment – like grandma’s backyard. So we have to be able to put in some playground equipment, but we also want it to be a space for teens, where they can gather and really explore who they are and come together in a safe space.”
The space, while tied to Unity of Sacramento, will be open to anybody, Rev. Ross said, whether or not somebody is a member of his congregation or even a person of faith at all.
“I ascribe to Dr. King’s philosophy that we live in a World House, and so especially as people of faith, we have to recognize that our neighborhood must extend beyond our sanctuary, our mosque, our synagogue and our community of faith is worldwide and we can find neighbors everywhere we go,” he said.
Ross was one of the 84 protesters arrested for 'illegal assembly' at a Stephon Clark march this month. The district attorney decided last week to drop charges for all of them.
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Stephon Clark's family responds to the Sacramento County District Attorney's decision to bring no charges against the officers involved in the shooting death of Stephon Clark.