Riverdale names park after 4-year-old shooting victim

By Shannon Jenkins

Out of every bad comes good.

Sharon Owens, a local community activist, used that sentiment at a dedication ceremony for 4-year-old Travon Wilson on Saturday in Riverdale. The baseball park on Church Street was renamed for the young shooting victim as part of a collaborative effort between the community, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners and the Riverdale city government.

Wilson was killed when a stray bullet from a gang shoot-out hit him last June as he walked his bicycle alongside his grandmother.

Many people turned out this weekend for the event, which began with a spirited parade of baseball teams who threw candy to cheering crowds. Several organizations and dignitaries were there, including the Atlanta chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, VFW Post 3650, Riverdale Mayor Phaedra Graham, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, county district attorney Jewel Scott, Riverdale councilman Kenneth Ruffin, State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam and county commissioners Virginia Gray and Eldrin Bell.

The mood on the chilly Saturday morning was one of both celebration and remembrance.

"This is a celebration of life for Travon," said Graham, as the crowd surrounded a ball field and several teams lined the baseball diamond. Then she proclaimed April 16 as Travon Wilson Day.

Owens said the renaming was also a warning.

"It puts the community on notice that we're coming together," she said. "Those who don't do right, we're locking them up one by one."

Commissioner Gray, who helped organize the renaming effort, said it was fitting.

"We needed to do something to provide a lasting legacy for Travon, since he was an innocent victim of a senseless act," she said.

His death fomented outrage and concern about gangs in the community, and law enforcement agencies subsequently formed a gang task force.

But, local leaders say there is still much work to be done and that violence continues to plague the community. Last week, there was a gang shooting at the Rivers Edge Apartments in Jonesboro.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph said he has seen gang violence escalate in the months since Wilson's death.

"I think it's more rampant," he said. "The county has not met this challenge. We're being reactive. We're locking up kids, (but) we haven't taken any steps that are proactive."

Abdul-Salaam, District 74, said she made a promise that Wilson's life would not be in vain.

"We have to be responsible to all the children in the neighborhood," she said. "This is one we let down, and I'm sad about that. You shouldn't have to worry about your child getting shot and killed in a public park."

Tracey Glenn, who has lived in Riverdale for nine years, attended the ceremony on Saturday because her two children - an 8-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter - play baseball and softball there.

"It's a tragedy what happened, but (the park's renaming) will help people remember the problems we have sometimes," she said. "We watch out more. I think about (the shooting) every time I go by here."

News Daily Staff Writer Justin Boron contributed to this story.