We lost a hero in Zaevion: Glenn Reynolds
'Zaevion was a protector. He was the protector of my home, of his brother.'
“That day, we had a wonderful day, from the time he woke up for school. He was talking about his teachers and how he liked them. I dropped him off at St. Mary’s hill and I watched him through the rear view mirror. He looked happy, like he had a glow around him.”
Later that night, Zaevion left home to go see friends. “He probably was gone about 20 minutes and that’s when I heard the shots. My phone started ringing, and I knew something happened.”
I was talking with Zenobia Dobson. On the night of Dec. 17, 2015, her 15-year-old son Zaevion Dobson died, protecting friends from a drive-by shooting. Since then, Zenobia and her two surviving sons, Markastin Taylor and Zackelyn Dobson, have had to go on. But today she mostly wanted to remember Zaevion.
“Lovable. Huggable. Handsome. Bold. Strong-minded. He loved his family and his friends. He loved school. He liked playing football. He wanted to play baseball after football season was over. He ushered and sang in the choir. He was a little shy to sing. He was a part of the young men’s group, 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville.
“He would always tell me that he loved me.
“He wore the number 24. He called it ‘beast mode’ when he was on the field. He was glad when his dad showed up to see him play.
“He took robotics at Pellissippi State before his sophomore year. He and his brother Zack excelled at robotics. He and Zack were close in age. A lot of people thought they were twins. They dressed alike, they were competitive with one another, but they were best friends.
“Zaevion was a protector. He was the protector of my home, of his brother. [When the shooting happened] Zaevion had a chance to run, but he didn’t. He jumped on top of the girls.”
Zaevion was struck by a bullet and died at the scene. The girls survived. His mother regularly visits the spot — only four blocks from her home.
“Sometimes I ask him why. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was the protector. He was that bold. It didn’t surprise me, just to know that his life was taken to protect someone.”
Since that day almost a year ago, Zenobia Dobson and her surviving sons go on with life. People offered to help her move out of the Lonsdale neighborhood where the shooting happened, but for now she’s staying. “I think I need to be there now. I choose to be there right now. I feel at peace there, because that’s where he lived.”
She hears regularly from the girls he saved. “The girls come to see me from time to time, they send me text messages and they brought me flowers on the holidays. They are some sweet little girls. They graduate this year. They want to go to college and move away from Knoxville. I see them when I go to the games and they always give me a hug.”
Zaevion has gotten a lot of recognition over the past year: An Arthur Ashe Courage Award, a bridge named after him in Knoxville, Jan. 24 being designated Zaevion Dobson Day, even some babies named after him. But Zenobia Dobson wants to make things better for those who remain.
The Lonsdale neighborhood where Zaevion was shot is full of families with kids, but there’s nowhere for them to go. It’s 16 square blocks surrounded by busy streets, without even a basketball court. There used to be playgrounds, but they were turned into parking lots. There used to be a recreation center, but now the city parks trucks and tractors there. There aren’t even speed bumps or signs warning of children at play to slow down the traffic.
She’s set up a foundation, the Zaevion Dobson Memorial Foundation, to build a recreation center in the neighborhood, and if things go well, maybe in other neighborhoods with similar problems. (Full disclosure: I’ve donated).
Zaevion Dobson acted in a split-second and saved lives. At the age of 15, he did something that many full-grown men wouldn’t have done. As his mother said, he was a protector. As much as playgrounds, we need those. But it’s a tragedy that we lost this one so young, just one year ago.