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Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park Open, Much More to Come for Lonsdale 
Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park Ribbon Cutting

Only weeks after the death of 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson, who was killed Dec. 17, 2015, in the Lonsdale Homes community while shielding his friends from gunfire, community members were rallying with local leaders to seek change. They approached the City of Knoxville and the Knoxville Community Development Corp. (KCDC) about building a safe place in the community for children to play.

Less than a year and a half later - on April 26, 2017 - hundreds gathered at an inspirational ceremony celebrating the opening of the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park.

“Even as a young man, Zaevion had the makings of a future leader in our community,” Mayor Madeline Rogero said at the opening ceremony. “In his courageous actions, he touched the hearts of so many in our city as well as nationwide. This playground is a fitting tribute to Zae and provides a place for the children of his neighborhood to play and have fun.”

Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park

A memorial sign with an iconic football photo of Dobson overlooks the entrance to the park, which features a playground (geared toward the community’s estimated 200 children under the age of 12), a multi-purpose field, walking path and natural playscape.

The playground was designed with maroon and silver colors, a tribute to Dobson’s participation as No. 24 on the Fulton Falcons football team. Down the path near the multi-use field, flowers are landscaped in the shape of the number “24.”

Kids play on Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground

The new park sits on property donated by KCDC and is just several hundred feet away from the site where Dobson was killed in 2015.

“This park will be a place where the children of Lonsdale Homes and their families can gather to play and enjoy nature,” KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley said. “As you can see from the smiling faces of the children here today, this playground is a welcome addition to the community.”

City of Knoxville Public Service crews cleared the property, installed all play equipment, picnic tables and other amenities, paved the walking paths and parking lot, and landscaped the entire park. City Parks and Recreation officials advised on the design of the park.

The project cost approximately $60,000, the majority of which was sponsored by Gerdau, a steel producing company with a factory adjacent to the park. Other sponsors included Pilot Flying J and Recreation Concepts.

“From the White House to ESPN, Zaevion’s heroic actions of sacrificing his life to save the lives of his friends have inspired the nation,” Gerdau Vice President and General Manager Johnny Miller said. “We are proud to help honor our neighborhood hero and provide Lonsdale’s children a safe place to play.”

Miller was referencing President Barack Obama’s tearful January 2016 speech calling for gun control that acknowledged Dobson’s heroism and sacrifice.

“He wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, he hadn’t made a bad decision,” President Obama said. “He was exactly where any other kid would be. Your kid. My kids. And Zaevion, who was in high school - hadn’t even gotten started in life - dove on top of three girls to shield them from the bullets. And he was shot in the head and the girls were spared. He gave his life to save theirs... An act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old.”

Later that year, Dobson posthumously received ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2016 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. His mother, Zenobia Dobson, and his brothers, Markastin Taylor and Zach Dobson, accepted the award on his behalf.

Click HERE to view the Dobson family acceptance speech on ESPN.com.

Also, this video portraying the life story of Zaevion Dobson was shown during the ESPY Arthur Ashe award presentation:

Speaking at the opening of the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park, Zenobia asked Zaevion’s brothers, friends and the girls who were saved by Zaevion’s sacrifice to join her at the podium. She spoke of her work at the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Foundation that she established to memorialize her son. Through the foundation, she and other community members are working to encourage and create safe play spaces for children with the end result of reducing gun violence.

"It made my heart feel glad because I see the children smile and I see the community together and I see family. That's the most important thing - family," Zenobia said in an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park is nestled at the end of Badgett Drive. The new pocket park is intended to serve the neighborhood (as opposed to a destination park that you drive to).

“We have come together to provide new resources and services for children across our city, including this beautiful new playground for youth in Lonsdale Homes so that they can exercise, socialize, and simply enjoy being kids,” Mayor Rogero had said in her remarks at the ceremony.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Once the ribbon was cut, children and their families snapped selfies with the park’s sign that featured Zaevion’s photo, and raced off to play in the park.

Footballs were seen sailing back and forth through the air. Children swung higher than seemed possible on the swings and waited in line for the slide and a spinning orb that four children at a time can hang from.

Parents assisted the little ones and socialized with neighbors. “We might have your birthday party here in a few weeks,” a dad was overheard telling his little girl.

Kids and adults alike went up to the ice cream truck, which gave away free treats for the event.

Community energy was high, and one could feel that this was an important process for the Lonsdale community, which now has a tribute physically in place to honor its young hero.

“Every time the youth of Lonsdale Homes play on this playground or play a pickup game on the field, they’re going to run by this sign with his (Zaevion’s) name on it — and they’re going to know the impact that one teen can make,” Mayor Rogero said.

View a recap of the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park ribbon-cutting ceremony covered in this Moxley Carmichael “MoxCar Minute” video:

Meanwhile, more investment to enhance children's recreation opportunities will be coming soon in the Lonsdale community.

On April 20, the Emerald Youth Foundation and the City of Knoxville announced plans to build a sports complex on City property adjacent to Sam E. Hill Elementary, where Zaevion and his brother attended when they were younger. The complex will be a short walk from the new park and playground.

The $10 million project - financed by private donations with the City installing about $1 million in public infrastructure - will include two synthetic multi-purpose fields and a 30,000-square-foot indoor facility with two gymnasiums, a fitness center, and a learning center.

To view a news release on the project, click HERE.

In the annual State of the City budget address held on Friday, April 28, Mayor Rogero announced the $1 million capital improvements investment for streetscapes and sidewalks in Lonsdale. The enhancements will be focused on walking routes leading to the elementary school and future sports complex.

In Zaevion Dobson Memorial Playground and Park, there’s a short segment of path that veers off of the walking loop and stops abruptly at the park’s property line. Long-term plans are to link this walking loop into a larger greenway network that will provide more pedestrian options and connectivity for the neighborhood.

The open-ended segment represents the work that is yet to be done for improving the Lonsdale community. The good news? The fact that this small piece was paved in anticipation signifies the expectations for Lonsdale’s future.

See the list below for extensive local and national media coverage of Knoxville hero Zaevion Dobson that has been reported since his tragic death in December 2015:

National coverage:
New York Daily News 12.18.15
NBC News Story 12.19.15
CNN Story 12.20.15
New York Times Story 12.21.15
New York Times Story 5.4.16
Chicago Tribune 5.8.16
ESPN Story 6.21.16
NBC News Story 7.13.16
Washington Post Story 7.13.16
ABC News Story 7.13.16
People Magazine Story 7.13.16
US Magazine Story 7.14.16
People Magazine Story 8.26.16
USA Today Story 1.24.17

Local coverage:
Knoxville News Sentinel Story 6.27.16
WATE Story 6.27.16
WVLT Story 6.29.16
WVLT Story 6.30.16
WBIR Story 3.16.17
WATE Story 3.16.17
WVLT Story 3.16.17
WBIR Story 4.5.17
WATE Story 4.5.17
WATE Story 4.26.17
Knoxville News Sentinel Story 4.26.17
WBIR Story 4.26.17
WVLT Story 4.26.17
Knoxville News Sentinel Story 4.27.17

Posted by On 09 May, 2017 at 10:52 AM