'Beautiful' playground honors girl killed during cookout at Richmond park: 'I'm all emotional'

Councilwoman calls playground 'symbol of community coming together'
Posted at 9:54 PM, May 20, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. – A ribbon cutting for the Markiya Dickson Imagination Zone took place at Fonticello Park Saturday nearly four years after the 9-year-old girl was killed.

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Mark Whitfield and Ciara Dickson, Markiya’s parents, grew up playing and eventually brought their kids to the park. However, it was also where their daughter was killed when gunshots erupted at the nearby basketball court at a Memorial Day cookout in 2019.

The family lost both their daughter and a sense of safety.

"Then when it happened, everybody wanted to run away from the park. Everybody like, we ain't going to the parks no more, we keeping our kids in the house," Whitfield previously said.

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However, that sense of fear was something Markiya's parents did not want to happen. So they have been working with the city and Friends of Fonitcello Park on the Imagination Zone.

“Today we honor something beautiful," Richmond City Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch (5th District) said. "More than a playground, a symbol of this community coming together."

Whitfield said being back in the park leaves him with mixed emotions. 

"We left my daughter in this park,” Whitfield said. “So when I do come out here it bring me back to that day, but now I see something beautiful that puts me in a sense of ease."

Through tears, Markiya’s father said he was at a loss.

"I'm all emotional right now and on the inside I don't know how to feel," Whitfield said. “I know it's a good feeling right now because we are remembering my kid."

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Markiya’s family and city leaders have worked to make communities safer in the wake of the tragedy.

City council banned guns in public parks and the city invested more than $1 million for the playground.

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Mayor Levar Stoney called the playground an investment.

“There has to be an investment in the hope of the people who live in this city,” Stoney said. “This is also an investment in that there is a better way. There is a better way to solve our conflict. There is a better way to love in our community."

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