Brooklyn Center's Earle Brown Days is getting a new name and format, which officials are hoping will draw more people to the annual summer celebration and help them reconnect to the city.
For one year, the fete will be called the Brooklyn Center Celebration. And instead of taking place only over the final weekend of June, a series of small events will be held throughout the spring, summer and early fall.
"Residents can experience a variety of events and partake in a dialogue as to what a Brooklyn Center Celebration should look like," said Janelle Crossfield, one of the city's recreation supervisors.
Feedback gained this year will be used to design and build a new celebration for summer 2022.
"We hope to develop a robust partnership with residents to host and put on the celebration," Crossfield said. "Volunteering, planning or just showing up — there are many ways to support a community celebration."
Brooklyn Center's first civic celebration was called Early Bird Days. In 1982, it was renamed Earle Brown Days in honor of the former resident. The weekend celebration featured a parade, entertainment, craft and business expos, sports events and fireworks.
But as the city's demographics changed over the past quarter century, participation waned and fewer volunteers stepped up to plan it. The responsibility increasingly fell to city staff members. As fundraising declined, the city picked up more of the tab, said City Manager Curt Boganey.
In recent years, the city kicked in $27,000 to cover expenses, according to Crossfield. That led to conversations about creating a festival current residents would embrace and participate in.
The City Council directed Boganey to look at rebranding the celebration and change Earle Brown Days to something that attracts more of the 31,000 people who live in the north metro suburb.
"We don't assume a name change will automatically result in increased community involvement and participation," he wrote in a Jan. 25 memo. "We do believe it could be a first step in recreating a community celebration that will be encouraging to residents who feel little connection to the city's agricultural past."
Another factor fueling the drive for a name change: new revelations about Brown.
Brown was one of the city's first prominent citizens. He inherited a farm from his wealthy grandfather, and in 1911, the Village of Brooklyn Center was formed during a vote held there.
In the 1920s, Brown served two terms as Hennepin County Sheriff and in 1929 helped found the Minnesota State Patrol. In 1932, he unsuccessfully ran for governor.
As sheriff, however, Brown did not stop the KKK from burning crosses or meeting in Hennepin County, according to Minneapolis schoolteacher Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle's 2013 book "The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota."
The discovery of Brown's activities led the city's school district last year to change the name of Earle Brown Elementary School to Brooklyn Center Elementary School. That move spurred the discussion to rename Earle Brown Days.
"The current controversy regarding the alleged Ku Klux Klan association by Sheriff Brown can only exacerbate the branding problem for a celebration that is intended to bring the community together," Boganey wrote. "It is impossible to imagine how continuing the use of Earle Brown Days will help build community, which is the purpose of an annual celebration."
The COVID-19 pandemic also has played a role in shaping this year's celebration. With restrictions on crowd sizes and budget concerns, Brooklyn Center won't have a parade or fireworks this year, but both could return in 2022.
Instead of one big blast, the city will offer a "Summer Sampler" featuring events from a culinary arts tour to a kids' garage sale to a community health fair. Up first will be April's Shingle Creek Clean Up. Other events include open mic nights, a back-to-school bash, beer tastings and a "Pets on Parade" finale in October.
"Creating opportunities for residents to celebrate the city is always important," Crossfield said. "During the unprecedented COVID pandemic, it is critical to create a safe opportunity for residents to physically and mentally engage in city celebrations."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768