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Tennessee mom still pushing for change five years after losing her son to gun violence

In December 2015, Zaevion Dobson died shielding friends from gunfire. His mom has advocated for children ever since to honor his legacy.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Hundreds packed the Fulton High School auditorium in January 2016 to demand change. 

Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year-old football player, had just been killed while shielding three friends from gunfire on Dec. 17, 2015. 

"He gave his life to save theirs — an act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old," then-President Barack Obama said. "We are not asked to have shoulders that big, a heart that strong, reactions that quick."

Powerful words from the president and frustrated community members renewed calls for change. There were hip-hop forums for youth, education meetings to address inequities and rallies to encourage peace.

Five years later, the city of Knoxville is having those same conversations after five teens were shot and killed in as many months.

RELATED: Gun Violence: The Community Speaks

Credit: Grace King
Bracelets that Zenobia Dobson wears to honor her son, Zaevion.

"My heart breaks to know that another child has lost their life to gun violence," said Zenobia Dobson, Zaevion's mom. "They want to be with their friends. They want to go places. They should be traveling and not even thinking about guns."

She's spent the past few years advocating for an end to the violence so that no other mother has to feel her pain.

June 2020: 'He's still my hero' | Zenobia Dobson honors Zaevion days before his 20th birthday

"I have a lot of great memories of him," she said. "There's not a day gone by that I won't miss him."

Zenobia knows that talking about solutions isn't enough. She created the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Foundation to give students college scholarships.

"Zaevion wanted to go to college, so that was very important for me to keep his legacy alive," Zenobia said. "He was big on playing football and big on making the grade, so I took that reflection of him and blessed other kids with it."

Credit: Grace King
Zenobia created a scholarship and pushed for a park in Lonsdale in memory of her son, Zaevion.

April 2017: Zaevion Dobson Memorial Park opens 

She also pushed for the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Park in the Lonsdale community in 2017.

"It was a dark time in my life, and I just kept looking all around and I said, 'Lord, you gotta bring some sunshine,'" Zenobia said. "We needed life back into the Lonsdale community, and this is what brought it back."

To prevent more children from dying, she insists on listening and empowering them.

"Pay attention. Meet them where they are," Zenobia said. "The children, they deserve this. Their lives matter."

Credit: WBIR
In December 2015, 15-year-old Fulton High School student Zaevion Dobson died shielding three friends from gunfire.

In 2016, at the "Stop the Violence" forum, one speaker said all kids are looking for is acceptance. Another said they need unconditional love.

Zenobia said those answers haven't changed.

"This community was built on love and as long as you have that, and you have family here, it'll bring about change," she said. "Let's talk about policy and change in our city."

RELATED: Resources: How you can help students, community in East Knoxville

She said she hopes to see measures that make it more difficult for children and teenagers to access guns. She also wants people to be held accountable for putting guns on the streets.

"I will forever fight when it comes to kids losing their lives," Zenobia said. "It's important for us to do. We won’t back down. It’s time for change."

June 2020: