ENGLEWOOD — When Sabrina Harris visits the Englewood park renamed after her 11-year-old daughter, who was brutally raped and murdered just a few blocks away, she sees 16 years of broken promises from the city and local politicians.
Ryan Harris Memorial Park, 6781 S. Lowe Ave., was renamed in 1999, almost a year after her daughter's death. Since then, aldermen and the Chicago Park District promised Harris a field house and a restroom facility that have never been built, even though close to $500,000 has been donated toward it.
"I’m wondering what’s the hold up now?" asked Harris at a news conference at the park Thursday morning.
"You all have the funding for the park and for the facilities you all said the park [needed] and it’s been 16 years and I still don’t see it. And I haven’t been contacted as far as when will the structure be allowed to be put up," she said.
According to Harris, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) donated $200,000 to the project and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) donated an additional $350,000.
A Sawyer spokesman said the alderman contributed a "substantial amount" towards the construction of a bathroom, but did not know the exact amount.
Collins did make the donation for bathrooms to be built but has received pushback from the Chicago Park District about building the facilities, a spokeswoman for Collins said.
The Chicago Park District did not immediately return calls about the project.
Before the park was built, Sabrina Harris played around the open lot as a child, but now the park is an emotional journey for her. As she walked around it Thursday she broke down in uncontrollable tears several times. A viaduct, which serves as a backdrop for the park, shields the area where police found her daughter almost 16 years ago in July.
The southernmost portion of the park, where Harris refused to go or even look toward Thursday, is where her 30-year-old cousin Shaneda Lawrence was fatally shot last year.
"It’s still very emotional for me, but I appreciate this city and everyone who fought to have this park renamed after my child, and I thank the city for allowing it to happen. But don’t overlook the little people," said Harris, who still frequents the park despite her losses. "Even though this is a high-crime area we still want some of the finer things in life just as well.
"I have grandchildren who come out and some of the people across the street open their bathroom for my family and myself but they're not subject to that. I thank them for it but I don't really feel that they should have to knowing we have the funding to get those facilities in the park," said Harris, adding the lack of bathrooms force children to cross a busy 67th Street in search of facilities.
Cassandra Greer has been a teacher at Little Angels Family Learning Center, at 6701 S. Emerald Ave., for 10 years, and said she tries to bring the children to the park every day the weather permits. But before visiting with kids, she first checks out the park by herself to make sure it is safe for the 3-to-5-year old children.
"This is the only park we have in the area and it's really sad. You don't even know how often we have to hide kids under slides because of gunshots. We do need somewhere safe like a building or a field house," said Greer. Just last week, she said she huddled the children under a play place at the park trying to convince them they were safe after hearing shots and seeing a someone run through the park.
"I told them we were playing bear hunt, but the sad thing was they knew they were [hiding] from the gunshots," she said, watching about 12 young kids as they played at the park Thursday afternoon.
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