Zenobia Dobson: Still fighting to keep kids safe

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Zenobia was a warrior queen, one of the most powerful women in ancient history.

Her Knoxville namesake didn’t aspire to battle her way through life or wear a crown, but as the single mother of three sons – Markastin, Zack and Zaevion – Zenobia Dobson often found herself fighting for her boys, always looking for ways to keep them safe and busy and learning.

“My family is my heart,” she said.

On Dec. 17, 2015, her youngest – her sweet, funny, always-cracking-his-mama-up baby boy – was murdered in an act of violence that came and found him as he was sitting on a neighbor’s porch sharing a Friday evening with some friends. He didn’t run when the shooting started – he grabbed two of the girls in the group, pulled them to the floor and sheltered them with his body. They came through unharmed. Zae died where he lay. He was 15.

His selfless, instinctive heroism would earn him praise from law enforcement, sports figures and politicians – even from the President of the United States. Zenobia, Markastin and Zack went to Los Angeles to accept ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award in his name.

And Zenobia became a warrior in a fight that never seems to end.

And she is tireless. Five years after Zaevion’s sacrifice, she was shocked that the Tennessee legislators and Gov. Bill Lee would start moving a bill to allow handguns to be carried without permits – “constitutional carry” in the parlance of the gun lobby. And she was gob smacked that they would push to weaken gun safety measures right in the middle of a gun violence crisis that left three teenagers dead in Knoxville.

“It is shameful that during the same week that three children in our community have been taken by gun violence our lawmakers are pushing a dangerous, permitless carry bill that would only exacerbate our gun violence problem,” she said in a statement released by Moms Demand Action. “We are committed to fighting this bill and pushing for commonsense gun safety laws so that no family has to have a loved one taken by gun violence again.”

She says she respects the Second – and any other –Amendment, but it worries her that Lee and the Republican super-majority are making this push to weaken gun safety laws at a time when gun violence is on the rise.

“Young children should be safe and protected where they live and go to school. … I think the city of Knoxville should be addressing mental health and trauma. Gunshots are all some kids know. We need to develop positive pathways for kids in the city – safe spaces for them to be able to go and play with their friends. Innocent life matters. Their voices are of value. They want to be heard,” she said.

There’s a playground in Lonsdale in Zaevion’s memory, and she wants the kids who play there not to be sad when they hear about him. She says her job will never be done, but she’s rewarded every time she visits.

“This is where you live,” she tells them. “You deserve to be safe.”

Her job will never be completed.

“But when I see a kid smile, I know I touched somebody’s heart. This is where you live. You deserve to be safe. You are valued.”

Does she ever get tired of climbing that hill?

“No. Because guess what? I have a grandson. Zion William. He’s 2 years old.”

  • Donate to the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Foundation at P.O. Box 53155, Knoxville, TN 37950 or here.
  • Watch Zenobia Dobson and sons Markastin and Zack accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on behalf of Zaevion at an ESPN-sponsored event in Los Angeles here.
  • Watch a professionally produced video of Zaevion Dobson’s final day here. Lots of Knoxville and Lonsdale scenes and Fulton Falcons football.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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