'I'm looking for a change': New Haven mothers to dedicate garden memorializing victims of gun violence

Photo of Ben Lambert

NEW HAVEN — A garden honoring and memorializing those lost to gunfire in New Haven will be formally dedicated Saturday, as a group of city mothers hope to compel residents to further consider, and place greater weight on, the lives of those claimed by decades of violence.

Marlene Miller-Pratt, one of the mothers behind the New Haven Botanical Garden of Healing Dedicated to Victims of Gun Violence, said she was excited and full of feeling to see the garden come to fruition.

“I just see a vision fulfilled,” said Miller-Pratt. “I’m looking for a change. I think it’s going to make a difference in New Haven.”

Miller-Pratt’s only son, Gary Kyshon Miller, was shot and killed in 1998 at the age of 20, reportedly as part of a dispute over a firearm.

His name is inscribed on one of the bricks on the garden’s Magnitude Walkway, which memorializes the more than 600 people lost to gun violence in New Haven since 1976.

It has grown this year, with 12 of this year’s 14 homicide victims added, according to a release issued on behalf of architecture and art firm Svigals + Partners, which designed the park along with the mothers, the city and Yale-based Urban Resources Initiative.

Miller-Pratt said the gravity of the loss in New Haven slips easily from public view. People hear that someone was killed, a week or two passes, and their name and memory fades from public consciousness.

She said people need to be aware of that toll and, hopefully, walk the path of names to consider it. With that, she said, the garden hopefully can help heal the city.

“These kids have been forgotten,” said Miller-Pratt. “Gun violence just doesn’t impact the family, it impacts the community.”

Miller-Pratt said Urban Resources Initiative will be responsible for upkeep of the park from June to October, but she’s hoping community members, church groups and charitable organizations will volunteer to help, perhaps by setting aside one Saturday per year.

A dedication ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the garden, located at 105 Valley St. .

Miller-Pratt and Mayor Justin Elicker are scheduled to speak, among others, according to the release.

“New Haven, like communities across the state and country, is experiencing a rise in gun violence - violence all too often results in immense trauma for our families and our community,” Elicker said in the release. “This garden is an important symbol to our city and signifies that we remember and honor those individuals that we’ve lost and re-commit to fight as hard as we can to end the plague of gun violence that has touched far too many families in this community.”

Miller-Pratt said she also is working on a curriculum for middle school students, hoping to intervene in their lives before they become involved in the cycle of violence. It is important, she said, to step in and alter the tide of violence that has affected New Haven for years.

“This is my city. I grew up here,” said Miller-Pratt. “I don’t like what it’s become.”

william.lambert@hearstmediact.com