Preserving Community History: Carver Park & Recreation Center

The Site

Carver Recreation Center, a multicultural community center in Johnson City, Tennessee, has a long, rich cultural history that is not widely celebrated or known. For more than 60 years, including the first years of desegregation, Carver has served its predominantly Black community with vibrant athletic programming, after-school support, educational enrichment, community events, and more.

Partners and Facilitators

On-site contact
Herb Greenlee, supervisor at Carver. (He began working for the City when he was just eight years old, selling concessions at Carver’s pool.) Herb helped identify and recruit participants for the event, and was a key participant himself.
Professional storytellers
Bobby and Sherry Norfolk, performers with deep experience leading storytelling workshops for laypeople and coordinating diversity-related trainings. The Norfolks have a longstanding relationship with ISC.
Visual Artist
Jason Flack, a local painter and folk artist who had previously collaborated with the city on public artworks. Flack was commissioned by ISC to paint a mural inspired by the event.
Videography team
Chroma Creative, LLC, local professionals hired by ISC to produce a short documentary.
The City of Johnson City
Carver is a public facility owned by the city, which agreed to display artist Jason Flack’s artwork.

The Project

Professional storytellers and educators Bobby and Sherry Norfolk led participants in a day of reminiscing about Carver’s history, going through archival materials like photographs and scrapbooks, and sharing stories over a catered lunch. The storytellers led an informal workshop to help participants sharpen their storytelling skills, and a videographer captured memories that were prompted by Bobby Norfolk’s questions off camera.

The Participants

Elders from the surrounding neighborhoods who had a long history with Carver. Many had attended, as had their children.

The Outputs

A videographer produced a 20-minute film documenting Carver’s history for participants, community members, and local leaders. Painter Jason Flack commemorated the event with a painting inspired by participants’ stories. The painting itself will be permanently displayed at the Center, and was also reproduced by the city to create a traffic box wrap near the facility that will remain in place for five years.

Closed Captioning is available by clicking the “CC” button on the bottom right of the screen.

Carver Park Supervisor, Herb Greenlee, artist Jason Flack, storyteller Bobby Norfolk, and advisory committee member, Jasmine Henderson

Carver artwork by artist, Jason Flack.

Best Practices

Choose a collaborator who is invested in the site.
They will be an invaluable resource and help you get buy-in from participants.
The best way to recruit participants varies by project.
There are some projects for which a flyer or other impersonal recruitment methods will serve. They may require a more personal approach, such as face-to-face invitations.
Narrow down your target audience.
Carver serves the entire community with intergenerational programming. For this project, we chose to focus on the facility’s early years, recruiting elders from the Carver community.
Ask participants to pre-register.
This will help you for planning purposes and help cement the commitment for participants.
Provide food.
Everyone likes free food, and having a “working lunch” (or snack, or dinner) gives participants another context in which to mingle.
Be mindful of scheduling conflicts.
Projects with retired participants are best scheduled at a different time than projects involving kids or working parents. Also keep an eye on the community calendar for potential conflicts like sporting events.
Look for opportunities to share the project with the broader community.
Carver is a department of the Johnson City government, which made the city a natural partner for displaying public artwork related to the project.

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