On May 24, 2018 two new memorial designs for the Teaneck Municipal Green in northern New Jersey were presented to the public. This is the collective project of two groups, the Enslaved African Memorial Committee and the Holocaust Memorial Committee, who I have had the pleasure of working with as their Humanities Scholar. The architects Rodney Leon and Alan M. Hantman were present along with Senator Loretta Weinberg of the New Jersey Legislature.
One of the things that makes this project unique is the effort to illustrate the connections between these two histories - highlighting experiences with prejudice, exclusion and diaspora – but also in terms of resilience, survival, and continuity. In order to communicate this, the team would like to present more than historical information, and focus on presenting stories in order to engage people with the histories being commemorated, and also to foster understanding that these histories connect to many contemporary issues, attitudes, and policies in America today – in relation to ongoing prejudice, stereotyping and propaganda. The many passionate individuals behind this project have very wisely decided that this Garden should not be only for people in Teaneck, but for a wider audience – since they will be representing here issues with a much broader resonance.
This is a truly unique project in that it attempts to illustrate these relationships, and it employs the powerful concept of a place of cross-cultural understanding. I remember one of the organizers saying at one of the first meetings that I attended that: “We don’t have a proud history of human rights in America, but we don’t talk about it. We want to use this space to open up discussions and enhance mutual respect through education and the stories told by each group." This will happen through the memorials themselves and also through the learning opportunities and historical repository component of the Teaneck Library which can become a hub for research, education, and public history communication --- addressing, collecting, and disseminating connected histories in Teaneck and beyond.