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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
Local officials will gather Wednesday to honor Zaevion Dobson, the fallen teen football player killed while shielding his friends from gunfire, and celebrate the opening of a new playground dedicated to his memory.
The new park in Lonsdale Homes, the public housing complex where Dobson lived and died, will serve the more than 200 children between the ages of 5 and 12 who live there, officials with Knoxville's Community Development Corp. have said.
The public housing authority; Gerdau, a steel manufacturer headquartered in the area; and the city together funded the new playground, which has a slide, swings and open space for children to play. It was completed in March, and officials will gather for a ribbon cutting at 4:30p.m. Wednesday.
The park sits on land donated by Gerdau and KCDC, at the edge of the Lonsdale Homes community.
The ribbon cutting also comes a week after city and county officials announced a partnership with the community organization Emerald Youth Academy to build a $10 million community and youth sports complex in the neighborhood.
Lonsdale has been shaken by gang violence in recent years, including the high-profile death of Dobson, a 15-year-old Fulton High School football player killed in the crossfire of a gang retaliation. Police have said he was shielding his friends on a porch where they had been gathered, and his heroics garnered national attention, including a tearful mention by then-President Barack Obama and earned him a posthumous Arthur Ashe Courage Award at ESPN's annual ESPY awards in 2016.
Most recently, another 15-year-old, Xavier Shell, was hit by gang-related gunfire in the home of friends he was visiting in the neighborhood in late March, police said. The bullet lodged near his heart, and doctors told him it was too dangerous to have it removed.
The recent spurt of gang activity is not the first for the neighborhood. The lot where the new sports complex is slated to be built includes a memorial to 5-year-old Brittany Daniels, who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in 1996 while she was playing on the sidewalk outside her house. She, too, was caught in the crossfire of a bloody gang war, Knoxville police said at the time.
KCDC officials said last month that the idea for the park came from Dobson's mother, Zenobia Dobson.
"He made the ultimate sacrifice, and he leaves a powerful legacy of hope for kids in this neighborhood and everywhere," she said at the time. "The playground is really about raising awareness for kids and gun violence and the need to have a safe haven for all the children in the neighborhood. It's just need a safe place for them to go and play and be kids."
KCDC, Gerdau and the city have donated $35,000 for the park, and Recreational Concepts all but gave the equipment to the city and is installing it basically for free, KCDC officials said. Additional donations were made online through the Legacy Park Foundation at legacyparks.org.
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