'One of us': Nashville breaks ground new Children’s Memory Garden

·3 min read
A line of shovles with the names of family members and friends of children who were lost to violence, commemorating a new ChildrenÕs Memory Garden of Nashville in Centennial Park, Saturday, November 13, 2021.
A line of shovles with the names of family members and friends of children who were lost to violence, commemorating a new ChildrenÕs Memory Garden of Nashville in Centennial Park, Saturday, November 13, 2021.

Under a sun-splashed sky on a chilly fall afternoon, grieving mother Amber Posey stood on the south end of Centennial Park outside the city's Children's Memory Garden.

Dedicated in 1996, the garden honors the more than 200 Nashville children who've lost their lives to violence in Davidson County since, including Posey's 16-year-old daughter, Ashanti Harris, fatally shot last year after an unknown suspect opened fire on her silver Malibu on Whites Creek Pike.

"I love it and I hate it, but I love it because it gives all the families a place to come and see a better setting than the cemetery. It's a bit more joyous," said Posey, as she glanced into the 25-year-old garden, with its white gazebo entrance showing age and worn stone tablets with children's names adorned on them.

After six years of planning, Posey, joined by other family and friends of Nashville children lost to violence, Metro officials and more than 100 others, broke ground Saturday on a new Children’s Memory Garden in the park.

Amber Posey records the event as city officials talk about the Children's Memory Garden of Nashville in Centennial Park, Saturday, November 13, 2021 in front of the family and friends of children lost to violence. Posey lost her child, Ashanti Harris, April 9, 2020.
Amber Posey records the event as city officials talk about the Children's Memory Garden of Nashville in Centennial Park, Saturday, November 13, 2021 in front of the family and friends of children lost to violence. Posey lost her child, Ashanti Harris, April 9, 2020.

Professionally designed by Metro Parks landscapers, the memorial will offer a solemn area for family and friends to reflect on what was and what might have been, said Andrea Conte, chair of the Children's Memorial Garden and the former First Lady of Tennessee.

"This garden, this beautiful, meaningful place where we can pay tribute, is a deeply healing thing," said Mayor John Cooper, who was among more than a dozen dignitaries who attended the event. "Nashville stands behind you in your loss. We remember your children."

"You are not alone," Metro Nashville Police Department Police Chief John Drake told family members in the audience. "It is a constant reminder there is still a lot of work to be done and that we don't add any more names to this garden."

The goal of the garden, established by mayoral executive order, is to reassure families that Nashville will know the children were here, said Conte, the wife of former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who served from 2003 to 2011.

"This is a real milestone, telling the children's stories is because of community involvement," said Conte, founder of You Have the Power, a local nonprofit victims' rights group for people like her who experienced a violent crime and felt bewildered by a system that didn't always take their needs into account.

Andrea Conte, Chair of the CMGN committee talks about the Children's Memory Garden of Nashville in Centennial Park, Saturday, November 13, 2021, in front of the family and friends of children lost to violence.
Andrea Conte, Chair of the CMGN committee talks about the Children's Memory Garden of Nashville in Centennial Park, Saturday, November 13, 2021, in front of the family and friends of children lost to violence.

The original garden, located just west of where the group broke ground Saturday, stemmed from the thoughtfulness of a 6-year-old boy who in the mid 90s saw a news report about three teenagers killed in Nashville as a results of gun violence.

"He said to his father (a horticulturist), 'Is there something we can do to make families feel better?'" Conte said.

The father and son approached Metro, she said, and in 1996, the memorial garden was dedicated.

Posey, who wore a colorful blue T-shirt Saturday with her daughter's airbrushed face on it, said she hopes other families who lost children remember they are not forgotten — like Jack Boone and Becky Bodkin, whose 16-year-old daughter, Whitney Boone, was killed by a drunk driver in Nashville.

"It really, really strikes home to me that Whitney was one of us. She lived and she walked and she breathed," her father said Saturday. "This is a way for us, Whitney's memory will always stay alive."

Natalie Neysa Alund is based in Nashville at The Tennessean and covers breaking news across the South for the USA TODAY Network. Reach her at nalund@tennessean.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville breaks ground on Children's Memory Garden in Centennial Park