The Philando Castile Peace Garden is a true example of how new life can flourish in a dark place. The site where Philando Castile lost his life at the hands of the police for a broken taillight now serves as the location of a beautiful garden created in his memory.
In response to his death, community members, local politicians and the Castile family came together to establish the Friends of Philando Castile Peace Garden.
A Mother’s Love
Valerie Castile is the mother of Philando Castile and the leading force behind the Friends of Philando Castile Peace Garden.
Since her son’s tragic death on July 6, 2016, Valerie has carried on her son’s legacy. She is the president and CEO of the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, which helps families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. She has worked with the Public Safety Department to implement gun ownership in the Minnesota Driver's Manual, and she has advocated for policies that cover the cost of school lunch for youth in grades K-12, such as the No Shame At School Act and the Free Meal For All Bill.
“ I think it's important to have the garden because it's a statement from the community. It's important that we remember what happened here because it was so atrocious.”
“We wanted this place to become a place where you can relax, feel safe, contemplate on yourself, do some self inventory. A place to be vulnerable, a place to transform yourself, where there are so many characteristics and attributes, they're here.”
“Phil was a selfless person. I just hope people remember that he was a kind-hearted generous guy. He was the laid-back, calm person that had a lot of influence and transformed a lot of people's lives.”
Philando touched the lives of all who had the pleasure of knowing him, be it as a friend or in his role as supervisor of the nutrition department at J.J. Hill Montessori School. In the middle of the garden sits a cosmogram that outlines his life, starting with his birth (sunrise) and ending with his death (sunset).
The Change Maker
Sue Gehrz is a former City Council member and mayor of Falcon Heights who supported the garden project. She is also the go-to person for the Friends of the Philando Castile Peace Garden.
“ So many were impacted by this young man's unnecessary death. The garden is a visible response that people can drive by and see there. Everyday, 17,000 cars drive by and glance over and see this now beautiful site, wondering what is here.”
Sue was one of the main advocates behind establishing the garden. She worked closely with Valerie and other community members to bring what was once a dream to reality.
“I think the number one rule is that we won't allow him and his life and death to be forgotten because typically when there's an incident similar to this, it's swept under the rug. Our intent is to maintain this space as a contemplated healing space where people can come and sit, think, talk with each other and remember that a very important man lost his life.”
Telling Philando’s Story
The artist who designed the cosmogram used it as a way to tell Philando’s story. The five steps leading up to the park signify the five times Philando was shot. The shape of the bench is slanted to represent the position of Philando’s seat in his car at the time of death. And the tree that sits in the middle serves as a sign of new life.
The Inspired Community Member
Sharon Castle is a member of the Falcon Heights community. For the last three years she has served on the landscape and planning committee that was formed to help create the garden. She is also the treasurer of the newly formed Friends of the Philando Castile Peace Garden.
“ In May 2020, right after George Floyd was killed, I joined the group of volunteers that were here at the site of the Peace Garden, turning the soil to prepare the ground for the contemplative gathering space that is here today. The Peace Garden is a labor of love that has grown from the outpourings of grief at the site where Philando lost his life.”
“Falcon Heights, this community where I’ve lived for 27 years, will forever belong to the long list of places where Black people have been shot and killed. As we move forward, we can’t forget what happened here. The Peace Garden provides a calm place along a very busy street to stop and reflect. When I visit, I often have conversations that I wouldn't have had otherwise. It’s a gift from Philando and Valerie to have this space right here.”
The small garden is located on the north entrance of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. In it lay flowers as well as various African adinkra symbols to represent the tranquility and peace the Friends of the Philando Castile Peace Garden hope bring to the community.
The Engaged Politician
Melanie Leehy is a current member of the Falcon Heights City Council. She is also a member of the Philando Castile Peace Garden planning committee and lives in the Falcon Heights Neighborhood.
“ This allows for there to be a narrative of hope and promise.”
“He was a man of kindness and a man of generosity. Those are some of the ways I want him to be remembered, not just by his family but also by the residents and people who work and attend school here in Falcon Heights. This says that Falcon Heights has embraced Philando Castile.”
Visit the Garden
If you are interested in learning more about the Philando Peace Garden, or seeing it for yourself, make sure to stop by the north entrance of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. The garden sits on the intersection of Larpenteur Avenue (Philando Castile Memorial Avenue) and Fry Avenue.
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