This article originally appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel on June 27, 2016.
by Kristi Nelson
By the end of fall, a vacant lot at the edge of Lonsdale Homes will be alive with children playing, if all goes as planned — a tribute to the life of the young man whose name it will bear.
Knoxville’s Community Development Corp., which manages the housing development, and nearby steel company Gerdau have each agreed to donate land for the park where Goins and Badgett drives intersect.
It’s just feet away from where Lonsdale Homes resident and Fulton High School student Zaevion Dobson was killed while protecting two friends from gunfire during what police have called a gang-related shooting. No one has been charged in Dobson’s death.
The location, while “appropriate,” turned out to be coincidental, said KCDC Executive Director Art Cate. It just happened to be the best location when talks for the memorial park began months ago, he said.
Of the tract, roughly an acre, KCDC owns about 60 percent, with Gerdau will donate the remainder, moving back a fence currently on the property line.
The idea for a park in Zaevion’s memory came about in March, after his mother, Zenobia Dobson, invited Cate, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Gerdau managers to join her on a walking tour of Lonsdale Homes. Dobson hoped to find ways to increase recreation opportunities for children in the neighborhood, a cause she took up when her three sons — the oldest of whom is now 23 — were elementary-school age.
Back then, when the boys wanted to play baseball or basketball or swim, she drove them to other places. The playgrounds in Lonsdale Homes didn’t survive the redevelopment of the 1990s, and the closest playgrounds — at Sam E. Hill Center and Lonsdale School — are too far to let young children walk unaccompanied.
“I feel for the kid whose parent doesn’t want to take them anywhere (to play), or can’t,” Dobson said at the time.
The Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground will serve children 12 and younger, Cate said. Preliminary plans, designed by the city, will include a preschooler playground, play equipment for older children, a wide lawn for Frisbee or ball sports, climbing logs or boulders, seating for parents who want to watch their children play, and a small amphitheater. At the entrance, a memorial will bear Dobson’s name and likeness.
KCDC officials presented the preliminary plans at a June 9 Lonsdale Association meeting. It’s a playground specifically for the 217 children who live in the Lonsdale housing development, Cate said, not a city park. But a path planned around the park eventually will connect to the city’s greenway system, he said.
Cate said the city will help shop for playground equipment and grade the land, as well as help with the design. Gerdau, which supports other projects in Lonsdale, will also have employees volunteer to build it.
“The city’s not putting hard cash in, but they’re donating a lot of in-kind” services and expertise, Cate said.
Total cost for the park will be $60,000. Gerdau and KCDC have donated $10,000 each and hope to raise the remaining $40,000 through community and corporate donors.
“We’re hoping to kind of jump-start the donations,” said Johnny Miller, Gerdau vice president and general manager.
Tax-deductible donations can be made through Legacy Parks Foundation, 900 Volunteer Landing Lane.
Send check to Legacy Parks Foundation, 900 Volunteer Landing Lane, Knoxville, TN 37915, with “Zaevion Dobson Memorial Park and Playground” in the memo line.