Local Park Hero: Sister Shalom Johnson

Meet Sister Shalom Johnson of the Friends of Reverend James Orange Park, one of our local park heroes. Her story, and others like it, are made possible thanks to the generosity of amazing people like you who choose to support Park Pride’s Annual Campaign.

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This past summer, at a Park Pride Play Day in her park, Sister Shalom shared a powerful story of transformation with Park Pride. She began by explaining the many changes Reverend James Orange Park has gone through over the years. Originally opened as Oakland City Park, the park boasted a swimming pool, basketball courts, a playground, a sports field, and open greenspace—a truly valuable public amenity and gathering place for this Westside Atlanta community.

Decades passed and the park fell victim to neglect and disinvestment. The pool fell into disrepair, was eventually emptied and locked up behind a chain link fence. The playground fell apart and became too hazardous for children. The ball courts and open greenspaces became home to dangerous activities that populated the news cycle. Finally, a small but mighty group of neighbors had had enough.

“A few incidents can give you a stereotype, a set image, of a community,” said Johnson. “I was part of the original handful of people of the Friends of Oakland City Park. The few of us wanted to revitalize this park, this community, and change the image.”

“We got to know Park Pride,” she continued, and “Over the course of years of fundraising, meetings, many, many meetings, planning, collabs with so many organizations, that’s how we come to THIS!” Johnson gestures to the kids running by, laughing, others swinging on the swings of the new playground, and a family walking down the sidewalk to the rebuilt, OPEN pool and new splashpad.

“We have plenty of children – I wanted to see the children enjoy this, the history, the location, the whole full gamut. When I grew up, the park was everything. We’d like to bring that back for this generation. It’s been a long journey… but every day I wake up and hear them gigglin’ and playin’; it makes it all worthwhile.”

Park Pride’s mission is to “engage communities to activate the power of parks.” Thanks to your support, we get to work with mighty people like Sister Shalom every day to create neighborhood parks that improve quality of life, provide a safe and engaging environment for children, and strengthen community relationships. That’s the power of parks. Join us in activating the power of parks throughout Atlanta by giving a gift to Park Pride. Together, our work continues.

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