THE SPIRIT OF KING COMMITTEE—ERIC WELLS, ASHLEY JOHNSON, GWEN MURRAY, EVELYN NEWSOME, DEXTER HAIRSTON. (PHOTOS BY J.L. MARTELLO)
In 1989, four years after her passing, Wilhelmina Byrd Brown was the first recipient of the “Spirit of King” award. The award is given annually to a Pittsburgh-area individual who pursues human rights and equality in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As noted on sponsor Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s website, Brown dedicated 50 years of her life to public service, participating in dozens of community boards and organizations, most notably the YWCA, the Community Chest and the United Service Organization.
Since 1989, there have been others who have been posthumously honored with the award, such as K. Leroy Irvis, “Teenie” Harris and Katie Everette-Johnson. But the parklet that sits along the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in East Liberty was always named the Wilhelmina Byrd Brown Parklet. On Aug. 30, however, Pittsburgh Regional Transit officially renamed the Wilhelmina Byrd Brown Parklet as “Inspiration Park,” as a way to honor not only Brown, but all of the past and future recipients of the award. Members of the Spirit of King committee and other local officials unveiled the beige stone that’s firmly entrenched in the parklet as light rain fell. The words “Inspiration Park” are engraved in the stone.
If the name Wilhelmina Byrd Brown sounds familiar, well, that’s because she was the mother of Pittsburgh civil rights champion Byrd Brown, an attorney who also headed the Pittsburgh NAACP. Wilhelmina Byrd Brown’s husband was Homer S. Brown, the first Black judge in Pittsburgh history.
PITTSBURGH MAYOR ED GAINEY
Across from the parklet is a sign with the names of the rest of the Spirit of King award recipients. Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey told the assembled crowd that walking in the parklet area in East Liberty is an educational experience.
“When kids walk by with their moms, and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ They can go through the history of how we got here today,” the mayor said. “…I find much inspiration of every time I see a name on there. Like Robert Lavelle, Nate Smith, Elmer McClung, Dr. Sylvester Pace, Harvey Adams… as I sit here and look at this wall, I want to thank them for bringing us all through.”
Pittsburgh Regional Transit CEO Katherine Kelleman told the New Pittsburgh Courier that her first event as CEO was the Spirit of King ceremony, and she was blown away by the packed room at the Kingsley Association and how seriously people took the ceremony. She said PRT was proud to be part of the Spirit of King ceremony for so many years, and the agency will continue its involvement.
Dexter Hairston, executive director of the nearby Kingsley Association in East Liberty, told the Courier that the name “Inspirational Park” arose from the Spirit of King committee wanting people to come to the parklet area (across from Target near the corner of Penn and Shady avenues) and be “inspired” by the many civil rights heavyweights that Pittsburgh has seen.
“Although they are deceased, it doesn’t mean that their legacy and their work should go unnoticed,” Hairston said.
The parklet is meant to be for family members of the deceased champions, too. Hairston said when family members come to the Spirit of King ceremony or what’s now known as “Inspiration Park” in East Liberty, and they see the other people who congregate at those sites, the family members “really learn about the impact that their loved one made.”
Pittsburgh Regional Transit, the Kingsley Association and New Pittsburgh Courier are sponsors of the annual Spirit of King ceremony and award, presented each January.