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Eastside Tacoma mural memorializes children lost to gun violence

A brightly colored indoor mural painted in a corner that 42 feet long and 17 feet tall depicts children dancing and playing.
Metro Parks Tacoma
"The whole goal is that we wanted to share the uniqueness of the community, but also share the joy [knowing] that joy and sadness correlate with each other. It goes round and round," said visual artist and graphic designer Dionne Bonner. "We talked about the dreams and the hopes of young people and how those things, those dreams and those hopes are cut off and that the the path that they may take now have changed because of this tragedy that has happened in their lives. So a lot of the motion and the movement and even the ladder that's represented kind of speaks to that achievement piece. The greenery and the leaves and the trees, to me, that speaks to the healing that has to happen in the community over the loss of a young person. You see the figures that are in shadows, to me, those represent the youth that aren't here. And then the future is those that are in full color that you see, that's vibrant."

Visitors to Tacoma's Eastside Community Center might notice some new artwork: a mural created to memorialize children from the community who died from gun violence.

Full of bright yellows and vibrant blues and greens, the mural shows children dancing and playing. Some are in shadow, representing those who died, and others in full color representing those who are alive — like the ones who use the center.

It was important that the mural reflects not just the sadness of gun violence but celebrates the lives of the children who died, said graphic designer and artist Dionne Bonner.

“We know that these young people aren't with us anymore, but we also know that there are young people here now,” she said. “So how do we share the beauty of these individuals and how do we also remember them and the qualities that they brought to their families and their friends?”

The 42-by-17-foot mural right outside the pool area is in the spirit of the center’s history, said center supervisor Antonio McLemore.

“This center was a response to an outpouring of community members that were saying, 'We don't have a place for our community. We don't have a place for our young people,' ” McLemore said. “If we don't create a space for young people, then they're going to find things to do.”

The $32 million facility was built after a local teen, Billy Ray Shirley III, was shot and killed at a party in 2011. His mother, Shalisa Hayes, organized the community to build the center, which opened in 2018.

The center has since become a safe haven for kids on the Eastside, said McLemore, who noted that membership to all of Metro Parks' community center is free for students 18 and younger.

“Some of the kids that gravitate to this space day in and day out, in a lot of ways, we are their last line of defense,” he said. “They feel like they can be themselves because, if this wasn't here, a lot of these kids would be in the streets. And so [we are] not only developing them, but also keeping our neighborhoods and our community safe.”

The mural is called "In Loving Memory" and can be seen at the center now.

The center is planning an official dedication in late February that will also feature a list of names of children from Tacoma lost to gun violence. More than 50 names have already been submitted. Community members who want to include a name can find a submission form on Metro Parks' website.

“I hope that it helps them to heal in some way, to see themselves reflected this, to see their community reflected,” said Bonner. “I hope it reminds them of the importance of gun safety as well and the importance of responsibility and that we're all really looking out for each other and we should respect each other.”

Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing