Lenwood Sloan brought home a peace offering from Hawaii.
Inspired by a conference on global tourism in the Aloha State, he accepted the challenge to take part in the 2018 Global Peace Park Project, with the vision of erecting “peace parks” in all 24 time zones.
In Harrisburg, his idea now spans more than two scenic miles along the east bank of the Susquehanna River. He assembled a “Peace Promenade,” featuring seven existing, but frequently overlooked, monuments, along with the Harrisburg Riverboat, to represent eight pieces of peace.
He hopes that joggers, bikers, power-walkers, festival-goers and motorists moving along Front Street will pause for a moment and consider this pathway of peace. He realizes that far too many passersby never even look up, blinded by haste, jaded by the familiar, or unaware of the significance that inspired the stones.
The promenade is a passion project for Sloan, a self-anointed “catalytic agent” who formerly worked as the city’s arts and culture director and the state’s film commissioner.
When he began, Sloan found that the monuments along the riverfront, tragically, “were foster children.” The city cut the grass around them, but no one took responsibility for them, he said. Worse, few people even knew they existed—even though they may push a stroller or zoom by them in their climate-controlled cars every day.
He was initially “despondent” after several potential supporters declined to help with the project. But he persisted, eventually stitching together what he calls “a crazy quilt” of more than 40 organizations and 200-plus individuals, including state Rep. Patty Kim, the Dauphin County commissioners, local history aficionados and the downtown community.
Riverfront Park, he said, was a natural fit for the park because it already served as a backdrop to so many summertime celebrations on long holiday weekends and is the scene of many 5Ks and family reunions.
“Although we are often a diverse and conflicted community, everyone finds the river as common ground,” Sloan said.
The promenade starts at Market Street and continues to the Peace Pole and Garden, near Emerald Street, built decades ago by the Physicians for Social Responsibility. In the yearlong program, many businesses along 2nd and 3rd streets are offering community conversations as part of the “ground-up movement of coalition-building,” Sloan said, including the Art Association of Harrisburg and the Susquehanna Art Museum.
“This is a passion project by people who are already doing this work, but often in isolation,” he said.
The project began last fall with dialogues on the nature of war and peace. After a mid-winter break, it was re-started in late February, as the group honored exemplars of peace, including Homer Floyd, Dr. George Love, K. Leroy Irvis and Dr. and Mrs. John Judson.
The next event in the series will be held later this month to honor the sacrifice of women, Sloan said.
The women’s monument at Front and Clinton streets is the centerpiece of the commemoration.
Erected after World War I, the monument features five women embodying five iconic roles: a mother waving to her military son, a woman in uniform herself, a farm woman holding a rake, a refugee and a Salvation Army nurse.
When the endeavor started, the monument was filled with graffiti and looked like a tombstone, Sloan said.
Former city economic development director Jeb Stuart helped identify cemetery experts who lent advice on how to clean the stone and plate. The Tri-County Federation of Democratic Women and the Harrisburg Keystone Rotary Club adopted the stone, which will be re-dedicated on March 24, and a circular sitting garden will be planted.
Two days later, a civic dialogue will be held with five area residents who will represent the iconic women symbolized on the monument. The Rev. Brenda Alton will moderate the discussion, featuring former York mayor and veteran Kim Bracey; Suzanne Sheaffer, a Gold Star mother; Major Elizabeth Greiner, who will represent the Salvation Army; Tara Bronbeck, who will represent the farmer; and Ho-Thanh Nyguen of the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Network.
“Harrisburg is an oasis and safe house for refugee women all over the world,” Sloan said.
On April 9, the group will advance through time to World War II, focusing on the riverfront’s silhouetted Holocaust memorial. Lillian Rappaport of the Jewish Community Center will lead the dialogue for the event, which will be held at the House of Music, Arts & Culture (formerly Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center), which once served as Harrisburg’s Jewish Community Center.
Sloan said that not only was the Jewish population persecuted in the dark days of Hitler, but so were Catholics, the gay and lesbian community and the disabled. So, representatives from the LGBT Center of Central PA and the disabled community will take part in the discussion, too.
Sloan also pointed to the time capsule that sits virtually unnoticed at Front and Locust streets across from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral.
“People sit and eat their cheeseburger at Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day and never know it’s there,” Sloan said. “The capsule is a pretty shabby lady right now.”
It holds yearbooks, letters and more, but, because it was assembled in the early 1960s, many voices were left out, he lamented, including the voices of women and people of color.
To release those voices, a Chautauqua, or educational gathering, will take place on May 6 at St. Stephen’s. David Carmichael, the new director of PA State Archives, will be the keynote speaker and facilitator.
“All our events are free,” Sloan said, encouraging all to attend. “Just bring your heart, your spirit, and your will to be a change agent.”
For more information on the Peace Promenade, visit www.dauphincounty.org or email HarrisburgPeacePromenade@gmail.com.