The weather was glorious on Friday, May 20, 2011, a special day of school and community celebration in Tacoma. Play in Peace Day was a tribute to the life of Zina Lennik and the community’s determination to create beautiful -- and safe -- play parks for children.
Abducted when playing in the alley behind her home in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood in 2007, Zina was found murdered days later. This devastating event rocked her school and city. Children from nearby McCarver Elementary, with the help of teachers, wanted to make a difference in the aftermath of Zina’s murder.
Play in Peace Day was the culmination of efforts by school students, teachers and staff; university students and staff; community leaders; businesses owners; parents; and supporters to create safe and welcoming play parks for children. These results were focused into the two parks bookending the Hilltop neighborhood, Wright Park and McCarver Park.
The day’s festivities started Friday at noon with an enthusiastic rally at the newly re-furbished Wright Park playground and water spray park. There were booths on site for a book drive, sign design for the day’s peace march, and a planting station where people planted seeds in cups to be taken and re-planted at McCarver Park.
Following speeches from Metro Parks officials, school leaders and students, attendees marched behind Jason Lee Middle School’s Drum Line to the newly built McCarver Park. Hopeful chants of “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!” filled the air as children and adults together conveyed the day’s message through the streets.
On a ridge overlooking downtown Tacoma, the Zina Linnik Project playground at McCarver Park is a truly touching place. Reflections of Russian design in the parks decoration honor Zina’s heritage. The park is bright and colorful, containing state-of-the-art play equipment and a community garden that will be enjoyed for years to come.
There was a “sacred” feel – as Carol Ramm-Gramenz, a counselor from McCarver Elementary, described it – at McCarver Park that day.
In talking with Ramm-Gramenz, it’s clear that the parks are only one of the visible benefits of the Zina Lennik Project. Elementary students worked side-by-side with students from University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington, as well as community leaders and business owners. These partnerships made lasting impressions on all involved. Adults have seen talent and determination in students that is inspirational and motivational. Students have gained confidence, a heart for activism and care for community that will help them grow into leaders in their own right.
Play in Peace Day grew from a tragedy, yet the blossoming spirit of collaboration is a continuing force. Ramm-Gramenz and all involved in the project hope their story will inspire others. “Have a clear vision of what you want for your community, with passion and commitment,” she says. “Other communities can achieve the same.”
Play in Peace Day is proof that if we are inspired as families and individuals to make a difference, there is amazing opportunity for what we can do for our children, ourselves and our futures.
Nadia Moore-Riell is a film and media stylist, freelance writer and mom. Her first children’s book titled The Islanders will be available summer of 2011.