by VoiceWaves Journalist Carl Phillips
The Summer Night Lights Program at Admiral Kidd Park came to an end the night of Aug. 28, and although it marked the end of summer, there were no sad faces in the crowds of mostly young adults who milled around in groups.
As the night grew on, you almost forgot the neighborhood’s violent history. It became clear that not only did the environment of the park feel safe that day– it was also festive. People of all ages and ethnicities mingled together throughout the park, enjoying music and games. Groups of parents huddled together and talked while their small children enjoyed free balloons and music.
Summer Night Lights, an annual summer program held at neighborhood parks, targets areas with high rates of gang activity. By operating during the peak months and hours of violence, the event provides the community with healthy and safe nighttime activities for all ages. It also eliminates the perception that parks are scary at night. The program is modeled on a similar program with the same name but in the Los Angeles area.
“I feel like my kids are safe here with all the people and the park staff,” said Kimya Thornton. “I live behind Cabrillo [High School] and normally everything is quiet but I still worry about both my sons because they’re teenagers and they often tell me stories of gang members picking on them just because they’re tall or Black or wearing certain colors. Here I know they’re away from all that.”
Since the program was implemented, the neighborhoods have already seen a decrease in the numbers of type 1 crimes like homocides and robberies and type 2 crimes like petty theft and vandalism.
“This promotes the community as a whole,” said Francisco Martinez, the coordinator of the event thourgh Centro Cha, an association that enriches the lives of low-income, underserved Latino youth through community advocacy. “By having games and activities during peak hours we keep the community safe. Children have a place to go and things to do in a safe environment.”
Martinez estimated that over 4,500 people attended the Summer Night Lights program at Admiral Kidd Park with the closing event having more than 400 participants alone.
Many local agencies participated in the even as well. For instance, the city’s public library held story time for the kids and Long Beach Police Commander Josef Levy walked around ununiformed to get to know the community.
“This is important because it builds partnerships and connects the people to the resources,” Martinez said. “It gave the public access to community leaders.”
Nancy Villancia who is involved in a similar program at Drake Park in Long beach was there as well.
“It just feels good to see so many people here together having fun and enjoying themselves,” Villancia said. “These are the programs that promote health in a community.”
This is the third year that the Summer Night lights program has been in Long Beach. But with as much impact and success it’s having with the community, the event organizers say that it’s sure to be back next year.
The program cost $300,000 to run, annually according to Councilmember James Johnson from district 7, who also participated in a past celebration at Martin Luther King Park. It’s uncertain how funding is going to look like in SNL’s future because it was only fully funded its first two years. For more information, visit http://mayor.lacity.org/issues/gangreduction/summernightlights/index.htm.
SNL Organizer Francisco Martinez talks to Voicewaves about why the event is crucial to Long Beach.