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‘Living history museum’ celebrates Martindale-Brightwood

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The history of the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood will come alive at the 37 Place Community Center on Feb. 29, thanks to collaborations from Indy Fringe, Harrison Center for the Arts and six Great-tri-archs — people who have been in the community for decades. 

“This is an area that has a very rich history as it relates to Indianapolis,” said Gina Fears, assistant director of recovery and reentry at Public Advocates in Community re-Entry (PACE) Inc. Fears is a facilitator for the event, and said she is looking forward to sharing the stories that made Martindale-Brightwood what it is today.

“It’s the heartbeat of the city,” she said of the neighborhood. Fears, 59, worries valuable stories aren’t being told because of social media. 

“I had family members that told stories, and today we have Facebook and Snapchat, so we don’t get those types of stories,” Fears said. “We will have some Great-tri-archs there … and they will give their reflections.”

The six Great-tri-archs will have a panel discussion about the history of the Martindale Brightwood neighborhood and how it has grown over the years. 

“If I don’t know where I’ve come from,” Fears said, “how can I decide where I’m going? I grew up in the city, I know the east side and what it used to look like, and I show my grandkids that growth. I show them where I used to live, where businesses used to be. … We can’t celebrate growth and changes if we don’t know the history.”

At the event, visitors can view portraits of the Great-tri-archs, created by Harrison Center artist Abi Ogle. At 4 feet by 6 feet, the portraits will hang from the ceiling and imitate the styles of several famous African American artists. 

Joanna Taft, executive director of the Harrison Center, thinks this is an appropriate homage to the people who shaped the city.

“All of them have been leaders in Martindale-Brightwood,” Taft said, “and have great stories about loving their neighborhood and wanting to grow new leaders to continue to tell that story.”

Visitors to the living museum will also see a play, “Wind Chimes and Promises,” which details a family’s escape from the Klu Klux Klan in the deep South, only to move next door to Klan members in Indianapolis in 1919. The play, adapted by local playwright Rita Kohn from the novel of the same name by Phyllis J. Adair, will be performed at 2 p.m. 

Kohn, who wrote the play in 2009 after being “totally engrossed” by the novel, said the play highlights the importance of knowing the history of who we are and where we came from.

“I think that without knowing our history and our heritage, we lose so much of our beauty,” Kohn, 86, said. “Right now in the United States, there’s a lot of historical amnesia. We forget that some people did not choose to be immigrants; they were snatched from their homes. There are people living in Indianapolis who are descendants of the survivors of that middle passage. … To not acknowledge ancestry, where we come from, is to disrespect what they went through.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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