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Terrell's Garden transforms pain into peace

Two little girls in sandals and spring outfits run through the grass, while adults sit in folding chairs nearby. A mural in the background says "Love and Peace."
Children play in the Terrell Mayes Jr Memorial Garden at its opening celebration. (CBJ Photo: Jasmine McBride)

What was an empty lot in North Minneapolis is now a peace garden named after a three-year-old boy lost to gun violence. 

The Terrell Mayes Jr Memorial Garden is located near the intersection of Colfax and 26th avenues, where Terrell was shot and killed in 2011 by a stray bullet the day after Christmas. Mother Marsha Mayes says it is important her son’s story has a happy ending. 

A small boy and his mother smile sweetly for the camera, their cheeks touching.
Marsha Mayes with her son Terrell, Jr in 2011.

“Junior was a ball of fire,” said Mayes. “But that wasn't supposed to happen to Junior. Junior had a bright future… Right now, I just be at peace on this land. This is my peace. This is him speaking to me. This is the safe zone. I want it to stay that way. This was his neighborhood. This was his city. He was born here, not me. My thing for this land is to give back what he couldn't receive.”

Terrell would be close to 16 now. The garden is dedicated not just to him, but to all children killed by gun violence. Mayes says the new garden space is about righting a wrong by serving peace and love.

“And being able to say Junior's power and joy that's coming down is serving a purpose here in Minneapolis,” said Mayes.  

Community member Rose Youngmark is the head gardener; she also has ties to the space. Youngmark’s brother was shot and killed two blocks from the garden. She says when she was asked to help that she decided it was time to do something about the pain she had trouble overcoming – not only for her, but for mothers like Marsha Mayes, and anyone else who has experienced losing someone to gun violence.

“I would hate driving past here… I avoided it,” said Youngmark. “But I mean, now this is a place where we come and we have fun. My kids come here with me sometimes, and we garden and we mow. And it's nice to just be able to reclaim the area into something joyful instead of something sad.”

A sign with drawings of three children's faces and names on it sits in a raised bed amongst the plants.
The Terrell Mayes Jr Memorial Garden is dedicated to all children killed by gun violence.

Youngmark says the garden took three years to get it to its current state. She says she collaborated with Juxtaposition Arts in building the space, and as a mother of nine, also recruited her kids. She says while it’s laborious work, it’s worth it to create a positive environment for the community to engage in.

“A lot of the time, we don't gather until it's something bad. And so it's just nice to do it… Do it for a good reason. This makes me happy. This brings me joy. This fills my cup,” said Youngmark.

The space looks nothing like an empty lot these days, with vibrant green grass and garden beds filled with fresh summer growth of various perennials and produce. A colorful plywood mural reads “Love and Peace.” 

“It means a lot to me to have a space where people can come to celebrate; or even come just to have a little peace and quiet among all the noise in the world,” said Roxanne O’Brien, organizer with Community Members for Environmental Justice Coalition. “I think a lot of times, our communities are fighting so much that we really don't have a lot of spaces to go to that we can consider a healing, calm space. So we're trying to create that.”

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