Sonya Chapple

Sonya Chapple honors her daughter who was a victim of domestic violence by laying a heart-shaped stone during the memory creation garden event in Harlem Park on April 10, 2021. Photo credit: Demetrius Dillard

Lisa Molock, a community leader based in West Baltimore, decided it was time to stop dwelling on the traumatic experiences that have negatively impacted numerous families in the city and it was time to begin to heal and recover.

As part of the healing process, Let’s Thrive Baltimore (LTB)— an organization geared toward helping families who have been impacted by gun violence— began the Memory Creation program, a student-led initiative that facilitates various healing workshops and activities.

On April 10, members from LTB gathered with local community leaders, agencies and volunteers to build what was called a “memory creation garden” to honor families who lost loved ones to gun violence with a ceremonial laying of personalized stepping stones. One of the primary focuses of the memory garden was to provide a place of comfort for grieving families negatively affected by gun violence.

The small piece of land on West Lafayette Avenue where the Harlem Park garden now sits was once underutilized space for illegal dumping.  A great deal of work went into the formation of the vibrant community garden— from removing brush and weeds, to installing flower beds, to clearing trash and debris.

Molock, the CEO of Let’s Thrive Baltimore, is deeply rooted in the community where the memorial garden lies, which is close to where she grew up. Losing a number of loved ones and close relatives to gun violence is largely what prompted her to organize the event.

“I just wanted to create a space where we can begin to heal and begin to recover,” said Molock, also a psychiatric rehabilitation case worker. “This will be the healing city garden no matter what part of Baltimore you’re from. You can come and put a stepping stone in here for your loved one that you’ve lost to violence.”

The function, named “Memory Creation Garden Build Day,” attracted Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success and the Baltimore City Health Department, among others. Molock was beyond pleased with how the day turned out, along with the message she was able to convey.

“We’re just happy to be out here and to be able to bring something to our community,” she continued, stressing the importance of community investment. “I think if we stop focusing on the trauma and gun violence part, and we focus on the healing part it will, in itself, reduce violence.”

The project was made possible by funding from Philanthropy Tank, a local nonprofit that aims to empower youth by challenging and equipping them to implement sustainable service-driven solutions to problems impacting their communities.

“What this means in this community – survivors will have a place to go rather than a cemetery,” said Joann Levy, the executive director of Philanthropy Tank-Baltimore. “This is in the process of becoming a bright and happy, quiet place for survivors or anyone from the community to come and meditate, see the memorial stones that are going to be laid and generally start to heal from the trauma that’s affected them.”

In his first few months in office, Brandon Scott has made reducing gun violence one of his top priorities in addition to his commitment to the youth.

“When you want to heal a city, when you want to make a city less violent, cure a city of violence, you have to wrap your arms around those young people and those families. Not just with your money, but with your time and love,” Scott said. “It shows people hope. It shows people that folks care about our neighborhoods and want our neighborhoods to be better, and want them to thrive again.”

To conclude the event, each participant laid their heart-shaped stones around the border of the garden and certificates were distributed to LTB’s participating youth. The memorial garden is “the first of many gardens to come,” Molock said as she delivered final words to the participants.

Sonya Chapple, a mother of a young lady who was a victim of domestic violence, participated in the ceremony in support of LTB’s mission.

“I try to be at a lot of these events that’s happening now with these families because there is so much pain and hurt with this violence,” Chapple said. “To do something like this is very, very good for their spirits to let them know there is hope.”

Healing City Garden

Let’s Thrive Baltimore youth and families honor victims of gun violence with their names inscribed on stones to be placed around the border of Healing City Garden. Photo: Demetrius Dillard