DORCHESTER -- On Friday, the empty corner lot on Hopkins Street sat unused, a rough and overgrown scrap of city-owned land abutting commuter rail tracks. But on Saturday, residents began the process of transforming it into a peaceful garden oasis meant to honor Steven Odom, a 13-year-old boy fatally shot nearby in 2007.
At an ceremony officially naming the land the Steven P. Odom Tranquility Garden, officials and activists outlined their vision of a park that would serve as a sanctuary for Dorchester youths seeking a place to reflect and recharge.
“We have worked to turn our pain into something positive,” said Odom’s mother, Kim Odom, who prompted tears in the crowd when she read aloud from a dog-eared journal in which her son had denounced violence in Dorchester. “Our desire is to build something where young people will be able to come and have a quiet space to reflect and deal with that part of them that needs healing, in a healthy way.”
Odom’s death is well remembered in Dorchester, in part because of its shocking senselessness: In October 2007, police said, a shooter fired wildly at Odom and several friends as they walked home from a game of pickup basketball after mistaking one for a rival gang member. Odom -- a husky, cheerful middle-schooler who had played the drums with gleeful abandon, who had worn the rubber on his basketball smooth, who could defuse his mom’s scolding with a cheeky joke, and who had nothing to do with gangs -- was struck once in the head. He died just feet from the safety of his home.
Odom’s parents have gone public with their story. They have become deeply involved in anti-violence advocacy, and visited the White House in February 2013, where Kim Odom read from her son’s journal to Michelle Obama.
But the garden is the first permanent memorial to Odom. His family hopes it will become a fixture in the neighborhood, one that carries Odom’s forward to future generations.
“This garden here is really going to keep Steven’s memory alive,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who helped dedicate the park and gave Kim Odom rosary beads that had been blessed by Pope Francis. “The focus is going to be on young people coming and reflecting about life.”
Steven’s father, Ronald Odom, a mail carrier and preacher at the True Vine Church, said that even after more than six years, grief over his son’s killing still intrudes without warning.
“It’s a constant struggle,” he said, choking back tears. “The preacher in me is preaching to the father in me, because the father will never understand.”
Ronald Odom fondly recalled mornings when Steven would miss the bus, an annoyance that forced him to drive his son to school, but also gave the two time to talk and bond. “Don’t get in trouble and make me have to come pick you up from school,” he would tell his son. The boy never got in trouble.
Walsh praised the Odoms for their tireless advocacy, and said their words add urgency as his administration’s plans to combat persistent violence.
“It gives me inspiration,” he said. “Here’s a mother who lost a son, and she’s taken that unfortunate experience and turned it into a positive.”
Kim Odom acknowledged Walsh’s praise, but said turning her son’s death into positive action has not always been easy.
“I can remember many times sitting on my couch alone, praying and asking God for help; wanting to raise my voice, but feeling like maybe I didn’t really have the energy, or maybe I was the only one feeling how I was feeling,” she said.
But Kim Odom has found solace in her faith and in the community of other survivors of violence. With the help of both, she hopes to make her vision of the garden a reality.
“In five years, I want to drive by and see the full diversity of our community in there -- young people, older people, people of all faiths and races -- just enjoying the space, sitting down and reflecting.”