Nicole Dorsey is a Memphis artist, and the Art Education Coordinator for Carpenter Art Garden, right down the street from Overton Park in Binghampton. As part of our Overton Park Stories project, she shared with Dawn Vinson how her relationship to the park has evolved over her lifetime.
My family has deep roots in Memphis. Growing up, we visited several parks for outings and get-togethers, but never Overton Park. In the past, Overton Park was not a park that Black people could go to, and my family held on to that perception over the years, preferring Tom Lee Park or Glenview Park instead. Later in life, I went to the zoo and to Brooks Museum at various times, but not the park. It wasn’t until eight years ago when I moved to a home on East Parkway with my partner, Vaughan, that I was introduced to Overton Park and grew to love it. Not being from Memphis, Vaughan had no preconceived notions about the park and just wanted to walk and run the trails.
In these past eight years, Overton Park has become an integral part of our lives. We walk our dogs here every morning, and we have gotten to know some of the other park regulars. There are so many amazing social groups that meet in the park. Because we walk here on a regular schedule, we have had the chance to chat with all kinds of other people, from artists like Guy Church to other book enthusiasts to community activists. We also enjoy attending events at Levitt Shell when our schedules allow. Vaughan loves the sense of freedom and balance that spending time with Mother Nature brings. It’s very calming and also a good way to get all of our steps in. I find it relaxing to connect with nature each day. I didn’t even know about the Old Forest until I moved to this area, and now it’s a part of my daily life. Overton Park and the people in it have been totally welcoming. I realized that my negative perception of it had been all in my head – a continuation of my family’s perception – and that sometimes you just have to let go of the old stuff inside of you.
I currently work with Carpenter Art Garden, and one of my favorite memories was when we brought a small group of children to Overton Park for a nature tour with Fields. We had a magical experience with a butterfly who followed our group and landed on each of us in turn. The kids from the group were terrified of bugs, but as our tour went on, we successfully got them all – even the youngest and most adamant one – to calm down and touch the butterfly. As Fields continued to point out and name the various plants, trees, and critters that we saw that day, my own viewpoint of the park changed, too. That experience helped me to pay more attention to the little details and appreciate the park even more.
Overton Park is a beautiful space. I love how it has grown over the years, how it has made a turnaround from what it was to being a space that everyone can go to. I love its diverse, eclectic visitors, from the homeless to the wealthy. Vaughan and I live in one of the last houses across East Parkway that did not get torn down to make way for I-40. The interstate was supposed to go right through our property. If it had, I wouldn’t be experiencing the park as I do now, so I’m very grateful that it didn’t.
Below: Nicole (lower right corner in first photo) with Fields Falcone of the Conservancy, Sarah Blackburn of Carpenter Art Garden, and students on a field trip to Overton Park. Check out CAG on Instagram.