• Phil Latham

Petition drive no walk in the park

As parks go, you wouldn’t say Tyler’s Crescent Park is particularly remarkable. It looks just like what it is: a piece of land that couldn’t easily be used for anything else.

There is one piece of playground equipment that can be played on in various ways, mostly to climb, and a bench from which adults can keep a watchful eye. You could probably play fetch if your dog was well trained.

The park slopes down to the ravine of a small creek that runs through – and dominates – the property. There’s no room to play ball of any kind here but at least kids could explore the creek.

There was a park much like this in Fort Worth when I was growing up. I discovered old creeks were great for kids, though not so great for mothers who had to treat the dozen injuries received while running through that park.

Crescent Park is a bit more tame but I’d guess there are still plenty of “treasures” to discover.

Late last week was too hot for man, or child, or beast to venture outdoors. But that didn't keep a small group of people from turning out in the Crescent Park neighborhood to try to get enough petition signatures to rename Confederate Avenue, which runs through the area.

They were a mixed group – a few white people, a few Black people. As quite a few of those who live on Confederate Avenue are Latinx, I had to wonder if any of them spoke Spanish. If not, the task of going door-to-door to explain to residents the need to sign the petition could be doomed to failure.

It wasn’t going to be easy to begin with. Changing the name of a street requires every single property owner on the street to put their names on the petition.

As Ashanti Jones said it to me, “One ‘no’ and we’re done.” Even if everyone agrees, it's still up to city commissioners to make the final decision.

These hurdles do not intimidate Jones, who identifies herself as an "independent activist." Truthfully, it’s difficult to believe Jones would be slowed by any obstacle thrown in her way. She believes the name of the street could and should be changed. If this drive doesn’t work out the way she wants, that outcome won’t keep her from tilting at the next windmill, either.

She’s got a lifetime of that ahead of her. She just graduated from Tyler Junior College with an associate’s degree in general studies. She didn’t indicate what her next step would be but I hope it is onward to get her bachelor’s degree, or even further.

She has a way of talking quietly and carefully that tells me she is a natural leader.

It took some leadership to get her helpers to the park, though fewer people showed up than had promised to be there. There’s an activist lesson for you: There are always fewer people who show up than who promise.

I interviewed Jones but there were news teams from two other television stations there waiting for their chance.

One of the reasons we had all shown up was an announcement by a man on Facebook, Gary Bayless, that he was “arranging for all my militia groups to line” Confederate Avenue in opposition to the proposed change.

No militia groups showed up, unless they were hiding in the ravine at Crescent Park, which eased Jones’ nerves and mine too, to be honest.

“There’s no reason for them to show up,” she said. “We’re not marching or protesting. We’re just talking to people individually. If they do come it’s not going to stop us.”

Good for her. The only thing such groups have is loud voices. Oh, yeah, they have lots of guns, too.

In the end, though, I fully believe it is not the show of guns that will carry the day but the show of courage and determination. I know which group has that.

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