Community cleans up Cherokee Park
When the pictures first surfaced and circulated online, it brought with them a mix of emotions. There was shock, anger, disappointment and even grief.
There was Colby’s beloved Cherokee Park, its stones and familiar surroundings befouled by graffiti. But if the act of vandalism brought one group of emotions, it was another act, an act of selflessness that gave rise to new emotions.
Like so many others, Alexis Gomez, a 17-year-old junior at Colby High, saw the pictures on Facebook.
“One of my friends had sent me pictures of it and I think that was maybe around 11 a.m. when I first found out,” Gomez said during a FaceTime interview. “I was really upset because for me it’s a place to go out and relax. It’s a place for everybody.”
While some took to the keyboard and typed their displeasure, Gomez did something else — she took action.
“I just wanted to get rid of the graffitti right away because I did not want other people to feel like they couldn’t go there because of something someone else did.”
Gomez gathered a group of her friends from Abbotsford and Colby, and with money that came from her family’s own pocket, they travelled to Cherokee Park just outside of Colby, and spent eight hours scrubbing and cleaning the stones.
“I grew up around here and have spent my entire life here. I love being from here,” Gomez said, describing why she felt compelled to clean the park. “That’s why the connection to the park is so strong because I have gone there since I was little. I didn’t want to have that get ruined by other people.”
Gomez and her friends didn’t ask for money, and they weren’t motivated by praise, but rather the desire to do something good, to restore a landmark that means so much to her and her friends.
“I didn’t really want to talk about what we did at first because I didn’t want to make this about me and what I did,” she said. “My friends and I did it because it was important and necessary.”
They also wanted to clean the park to prove the people on Facebook wrong after seeing some on social media discredit and cut down people her age, or who were from her Hispanic background. She wanted to show that Cherokee Park means so much to so many, that Abbotsford and Colby’s diversity is its strength.
“Having all this diversity is a good thing for our communities because you see new ideas and learn about new parts of the world,” Gomez said. “You see all these people from all over the world and it shows the beauty out there.
“I think just because one person does something, it doesn’t matter what the race is of the person who does it. It can happen from any race, it can happen to anyone and anyone can do something. One person doesn’t define the rest of us.”
Ultimately, Gomez chose to talk because she wanted to show that no matter what your heritage, age or culture, the park is something special to many.
“Even if you don’t think it’s something big, what you do can affect a lot of people. I don’t know who did that to Cherokee Park, but I feel like that doesn’t represent me, or my community or the majority of the people who live here. I feel like no matter where people come from they all have a hand and a way in how a community forms and comes together. “ More work was done the following day, on Thursday, May 14, when Jeff Bloome Jr. and Dallas Kauffman brought their pressure washing equipment and sprayed off the remaining paint.
Like Gomez, neither men felt the act represented Abbotsford or Colby, or any given race or culture. The park, they said, was much like Abbotsford and Colby, a place where people from all backgrounds can come and feel at home.
“I think everybody should take care of our resources, and when something like this happens, it’s not about a nationality and it’s not about a culture,” Kauffman said. “It’s about respecting people and everyone around you. That’s why we’re here.”
Gomez hopes that others can learn from her example, and if they see something wrong, and feel that they can make a difference, then they should do it.
“For me, if you feel you need to do something because it is right, you need to do it and ignore what others are saying,” she said. “You have to be willing to make a difference and make a stand.”
Within several hours, just as the sun finally began to peak through the sky, much of the graffiti was erased.
Kauffman, Gomez and all those who helped are hoping it stays that way, that Cherokee Park remains a place of quiet reflection and pride for those that call Wisconsin home — no matter where they originally came from.
“We grew up here, our families are here and we spend a lot of time around here,” Kauffman said. “We want it to continue to look like the place we’ve been coming to for years, and I hope it stays that way for more years to come.”