On Saturday October 9, the Jewish Cincinnati Bicentennial partnered with Cincinnati Parks and other community organizations to hold the fourth annual Ezz Fest at Laurel Park in the West End. The Bicentennial continued its focus on this historic area by becoming a major partner in not only the festival, but also the revitalization of Laurel Park, and the dedication of a new statue of Ezzard Charles.
Jewish Cincinnati has strong roots in the West End. The Chestnut Street Cemetery was the first formal Jewish community institution in the city, and the first Jewish cemetery west of the Allegheny mountains. The rededication of the cemetery was chosen for the formal kick off of the Bicentennial, and Laurel Park, down the road, has long been connected to Jewish life and culture in Cincinnati. The Federation felt it was important to be a strong supporter of local history, working with Cincinnati Parks to beautify and invest in the communal space. As the Bicentennial mission statement says “The mission of the Jewish Cincinnati Bicentennial is to partner with local organizations to reflect, share and celebrate the significance and pride that Jewish life in Cincinnati has woven into the fabric of our region.”
By being such an involved partner, the Bicentennial helped put together a plan that has led to a revitalization of Laurel Park, with the planting of over a hundred trees, flowers, benches and a bicycle sharing station. The plan was for Jewish community members to join with Cincinnati Parks to help plant the trees and revitalize the park, but the Parks department completed work so quickly there was nothing to do but enjoy the celebration.
By partnering with the street festival, the Bicentennial joined in commemorating Cincinnati pioneers. The Bicentennial has highlighted Jewish Cincinnati community members like Joseph Jonas, the first Jewish man in Cincinnati, and wanted to amplify other Cincinnati contributors; Ezz Fest, the annual West End street festival that commemorates famous boxing champion and favorite son of Cincinnati, Ezzard Charles, was a natural fit. Ezzard Charles was an accomplished individual, a world heavyweight boxing champion who famously defeated champion Joe Louis in 1950. Nicknamed the “Cincinnati Cobra”, Charles was a veteran, a tailor, and Jazz musician, who spoke three languages and traveled across the world, but always was based in Cincinnati. Dying in 1973 of ALS, the City of Cincinnati named Ezzard Charles Drive in his honor.
The festival began as an opportunity to share the rich history of both Charles and the West End, sharing food, music, and art, serving to bring community members together, something the Bicentennial wanted to be a part of. They seized the opportunity to become a community shareholder, highlighting the connections our two communities share.
Before the Fest began, a groundbreaking was held for a future statue of Ezzard Charles. With the Jewish Federation a major partner, the bronze statue will be designed by John Hebenstreit, and will stand eight feet tall, showing the champ in his traditional boxing stance. The statue will be in unveiled in 2022 in the heart of the park and will sit in a boxing ring style plaza. The groundbreaking flowed right into the festival. The crowd swelled to hundreds of people of all ages, with plenty of children running and playing, and filled up the newly renovated park and surrounding areas.Although the official focus of the the fest was on Ezzard Charles, many attendees noted that the heart of the event was celebrating the tight-knit community of the West End and its vibrant culture. Local music played as local food was served, and Cincinnati’s vibrant and growing community was the focus for those who attended. As one festival attendee and West End native, Ms. Pauline Parks said, “This was a good time had by all, all community members. Even early in the morning the park was filling up, and everywhere you walked you could look and see people having fun”. The Jewish Bicentennial partnered with this event to help highlight the connections and bring together Jewish and non-Jewish community members, sharing benefits, history, and pride between all community members, and the day was certainly a success.