Image: Amy Kinkead

In 1872, former slaves Rev. John “Henry” Jack Yates, Richard Brock, Richard Allen, and Rev. David Elias Dibble came together and bought a plot of land to create a space where their descendants could celebrate Emancipation Day in peace. Those 10 square-acres became what is known today as Emancipation Park, the oldest municipal park in both Houston and Texas.

Elements of Change, completed in January of 2020, relays the story of both the park and its founders in a visually captivating way. Artist Reginald Adams, a Third Ward resident himself, took four unadorned geometric pillars, remnants of the renovation that anchor the corners of the greenspace near each set of cross streets, and transformed them into three-dimensional mosaic murals, each one honoring one of the park’s founders. The individual structures have a color palette representative of one of the natural elements: earth, water, air, and fire—a creative choice meant to reflect the change these four men helped bring about in both Third Ward and Houston.

Image: Amy Kinkead

Befitting the original unifying purpose of the park, community volunteers spent almost 4,000 hours filling in the men’s portraits. They used more than 800,000 shards of brilliantly colored glass tiles to decorate each image along with tribal designs that incorporate West African Adinkra symbols (a subtle reference to the founders’ slave pasts as most of America’s enslaved community were captured from West Africa). Below each portrait is a panel of biographical information describing that founder’s life and contributions to Third Ward. The effect of the sculptures, completed at the beginning of this year, is stunning, with the individual tiles sparkling whenever the sun comes out.