Four years and much collective sadness ago, Ethan Esparza was killed in a driveby shooting the day before his 4th birthday, while attending his own birthday party in the front yard of his grandmother's Pomona home.
At the time that it happened, my Mr. Big had celebrated his own 4th birthday just weeks earlier, 8 blocks -and apparently worlds- away, in the front yard of our Lincoln Park home.
Ethan's death triggered lots of talk about enough being enough, and a banding together of local church and community leaders to find a solution. The most visible legacy of Ethan today is the Tri City Community Gardens at 2008 North Garey Avenue in Pomona. Tri City "Victory" Gardens is the lovechild of local cattle farmer Randy Bekendam, who was inspired by Ethan's story.
Garden photos courtesy of the Tri City blog site, unknown photographer. With what I am told was little support from the City of Pomona, Farmer Randy had trouble finding any where that would even allow him to build the gardens. How typical Pomona dysfunctional is that? As a result, the gardens are tucked away; if you blink as you drive up Garey, you will miss them. But if you stop and go inside, you will see an orchard, a succulent labyrinth, various farm plots and sporadic gardeners growing hope amidst the vegetables there.
Truth be told, there has not been overwhelming participation in the gardens by local residents. Other than a few visits there myself, I have not been involved as I thought I would be. One family here in Lincoln Park has been deeply engaged in the gardens, and that is how I have kept informed about what is going on there.
Sadly, changes in staffing at the mental health facility have resulted in young patients not using the gardens for therapy as they once did when it first opened. Recently, however, a woman from nearby Berkeley Avenue laid claim to a plot, which she tends alongside neighborhood children from her violence-prone street.
Over the past couple of months, a group of children have been painting the north wall at the Tri City gardens (see today's photo). The wall painting is part of environmental art classes hosted by Otterspace Arts. Mr. Big attended a class last week. Otterspace Arts is run by two former school teachers, trying to make a difference by bringing the arts back to local children. Check out their class schedule and get on their mailing list here.
No arrests were ever made in Ethan's case, until yesterday, when one man was taken into custody for the murder. The arrest has brought Ethan's story to the forefront once again.
At the garden last week, a large sunflower stood tall and proud in the middle of the vegetable beds (you can see it in the above photo). The sunflower immediately made me think about Ethan. I have no idea if Ethan's family has been to the community gardens that Ethan inspired. I'd like to think that big, beautiful, and oh so hopeful looking sunflower could bring them some needed solace.
If you would like to get involved in Pomona's community garden, Tri City holds work days every first Saturday of the month. If you can't get there in person, you can always go there via youtube. Please note that this video was shot last year, before Pomona's most hopeful sunflower came to life.