Zenobia Dobson leaned forward and kissed a photo of her son on the sign bearing his name and football jersey number Wednesday. Moments earlier, she joined Zaevion Dobson’s friends and other family members to unveil the new Lonsdale playground named in his memory.
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“It’s an emotional day,” she told the crowd gathered in a cul-de-sac in Lonsdale Homes, where Dobson lived and where he died in December 2015 while shielding his friends from gunfire.
“It made my heart feel really glad, because I see the children smile and I see the community together and I see family,” she said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “That’s the most important thing, is family.”
Shortly after the ribbon was cut, dozens of children flooded the playground, which includes a maroon-and-silver jungle gym, a set of swings and a slide. The area also has a multi-purpose lawn area for picnics and games.
The playground was a year in the making and will serve more than 200 children under the age of 12 who live in the public housing complex. City officials, Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation, the city’s public housing authority, and Gerdau, the steel manufacturer located next to the park, all partnered on the project.
Tashawn Kelly, a cousin of Zaevion’s, was at the playground with his 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
“It’s everything for the kids, but you still have to be cautious,” he said. “With everything else going on, it’s a safe spot for the kids, but you still have to be aware and keep your eyes open.”