Keisha Williams and her children were fund-raising for a new park in their North Philadelphia neighborhood in the summer of 2014 when the driver of a carjacked vehicle fatally struck them.
Seven years later, the vision for that park became a reality.
The Williams Moore Reed Memorial Park opened to the public Thursday morning at 11th and West Venango Streets to honor Williams, 34, and three of her children who were tragically killed: Keiearra Williams, 15; Joseph Reed Jr., 10; and Terrance Williams Moore, 7.
Dozens of relatives, friends, and community and city leaders gathered at the park, in the Franklinville section of North Philly, to honor the family and celebrate the space, which includes two green-and-navy- colored play sets, repaved sidewalks, trees, benches, and pedestrian lighting, and will eventually feature a new basketball court and green space.
“Kids deserve this,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “And this is what we should be doing every single day — transforming spaces for the future of our city and lifting up our communities in the process.”
The unveiling also cements years of work by community organizers, who lobbied city leaders throughout the process and have long cared for the land.
Before the family’s death, Council President Darrell Clarke had been working with residents to build new recreational space in the neighborhood, which, located just south of Hunting Park, experiences higher temperatures than other parts of the city and has fewer trees and shade.
Then the tragedy struck, and as surviving family members looked for a way to honor their relatives, they connected with Clarke, and the projects merged together.
“To say this has been a long time coming would be the understatement of the day,” said Clarke.
Williams and her children were described by family as funny, joyous, and loving. They helped create a community garden on the corners of Germantown and Allegheny Avenues with the Eagles Wings Ministries church, said the Rev. Lola Blount. Then, to help raise money to build a new park, they began selling fruits and vegetables at a corner stand.
But on July 25, 2014, two men lost control of a carjacked Toyota 4Runner and crashed into the stand, killing Williams and three of her five children.
“The whole goal was to build the resources for a safe space for our children and families. That’s why this day is so important,” said Blount. “All is not lost.”
The new park’s land, at 3600 N. 11th St., has been cared for by neighbors for decades. It was previously owned by the School District of Philadelphia and housed Richardson L. Wright Public School. In the 1990s, after the school was torn down, the lot filled with abandoned vehicles and trash, said Cynthia Barnes, 60, a neighborhood advocate and lifelong resident.
Barnes and the Nicetown-Tioga Improvement Team applied for grants to revitalize the space. By 2003, community members had built a park almost entirely by hand, even installing the fencing and basketball courts. Since then, every day at 6 a.m., Barnes’ husband and block captain, Robert Barnes, would walk over and pick up trash.
To see the space become even more vibrant, Robert Barnes said, shows the community that the city cares.
More than $800,000 was invested in the first phase of the project, Ott Lovell said, partially funded by the family’s attorneys, Morris Wilson Knepp Jacquette P.C. The second phase, which is set to be completed in about two years, is being led by the Philadelphia Water Department, and will include a storm-water management system to mitigate runoff, as well as a new basketball court with fencing, bleachers, and court lighting. Expanded green space, trees, new walkways, and new fencing will also replace the existing asphalt surface.
As Williams’ surviving children and other relatives hugged and played on the swings, Rochelle Blackson, 50, said she was happy and grateful to see her sister, niece, and nephews honored.
Then, as family lawyer Robert F. Morris read aloud the names of the slain, a balloon popped.
“That was spirit,” Rev. Blount said. “They were here.”