Pasadena pool now bears name of late leader Kennedy – and with it ‘a marker’ on path to progress

The noontime clouds parted, and the sun shone momentarily bright Saturday as with one quick pull of a tarp leaders unveiled the new signage on the south side of a building at Robinson Park Recreation Center in Pasadena: From here on out, The Honorable John J. Kennedy Center Pool will be there for generations.

The moment was the culmination of the late City Councilman John J. Kennedy’s vision, and the action to make it come true. A place for people from the very community he grew up in. A place where kids can learn to swim. That families can enjoy. Designed to be inclusive. Where people can find some common ground. A safe place.

“The real story is how we got here. The real story is how our friend brought us all here,” said Mayor Victor Gordo, referring to the leader many new as “JK. “The way we got got here is the contributions of JK, our friend and brother, over so many years.”

Community members, and family of the late Pasadena City Councilman John J. Kennedy celebrate the newly christened Honorable John J. Kennedy Pool, Feb. 3, 2024. (Photo by Ryan Carter)

Those contributions were echoed loudly on Saturday as Kennedy’s family, local leaders, clergy, residents young and older gathered to watch the unveiling of the signage at the new, $6 million facility, and a plaque.

Before his sudden death in the summer of 2022, Kennedy, who had been on the council for nine years, had long championed the plan to make the new aquatic center in his hometown a reality. His own local efforts ballooned into support from local leaders, including $500,000 for the aquatic center project from Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office, for which Kennedy would not take no for an answer.

Related story: Edna Griffin battled to desegregate a Pasadena swimming pool. Now, the site will bare her name

The project culminated in the new U-shaped pull, a new pool deck and a revamped pool building with accessible showers, restrooms, new lighting, and locker rooms. It will offer year-round aquatic programs, including swim lessons for all ages.

It was a moment once again to come full-circle for those closest to him.

“His whole life was dedicated to the community,” said Lena Kennedy, one of his sisters, just after the dozens who showed up gathered all around the around the gaping pool, holding hands, led by local clergy who prayed out loud for the safety of those who will use it. “He believed in one Pasadena, and everything he did he wanted every part of the city to have equity and fairness.”

It was the bigger picture that became a theme among the many who came to watch the moment. Pasadena just this past week celebrated the 105th birthday of Jackie Robinson, and the 75th anniversary of when he broke baseball’s color barrier. It’s also a city still reckoning with the facts of a difficult and often ugly racial past.

Family, friends and officials gather around as the sign for the newly named “The Honorable John J. Kenndy Pool” is unveiled in Pasadena on Saturday. Feb. 3. Photo: Ryan Carter, SCNG

Kennedy’s legacy and his contributions have become part of a larger picture of progress.

That picture was on the minds of many on Saturday at the newly named pool, even two years after his death.

Kennedy’s legacy matters because as a leader, “he paved the way and created bridges for this next generation to walk across. We’ve progressed but we have a ways to go,” said Pastor Jon DeCuir of Victory Bible Church, referring to housing issues and crime. “You see a multigenerational and multi-ethnic space where we can actually come together, to walk across the bridge he created for us.”

The Rev. Larry E. Campbell, senior pastor at First A.M.E. Church in Pasadena, echoed DeCuir, noting that the simple naming of a pool has larger meaning.

“Today is important to us as African Americans, because we are now leaving markers, so that others would know that we’re here,” Campbell said. “We must create markers in our community so that those who are coming after us will know that while we’re still struggling, people are doing great things here in spite of what’s happening with us now.”

Before the unveiling, in a packed rec center multipurpose room, Pasadena City Councilman Tyron Hampton told the crowd that those “great things” helped build a nation.

“There is no America without Black people. And in Pasadena, we have the opportunity to recognize those that have done so much to impress our values, who we are, as family, friends. This is a big celebration today. We’ve got Octavia Butler School. We’re at Robinson Park. Right across the street we have Jackie Robinson Center. And now we have the John J. Kennedy Pool.”

Then-Pasadena City Council Member John J. Kennedy speaks to a crowd on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (Correspondent photo by Trevor Stamp)

The Kennedy family and descendants of the Jackie Robinson family grew up blocks away from each other, said Kathy Robinson Young, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s older brother, Mack, whose silver medal in the 200-meters in track, right behind gold medalist and fellow American Jesse Owens, in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin enraged Adolf Hitler.

She brought her granddaughter, Ma Raj Robinson, 6, to the event on Saturday – a chance once again to mark a moment of progress.

“Years ago, John had this vision. That struggle was a struggle that has come and passed,” she said. “It’s just one struggle after the other. You just have to knock them down, and keep coming back.”

Related links

Longtime Pasadena City Councilman John J. Kennedy has died
Why Jackie Robinson’s legacy still matters as Pasadena celebrates 105th birthday
Pasadena celebrates new swimming pool in honor of late Councilmember John J. Kennedy

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