Students at Jonesboro High School pledge against gun violence

Jonesboro High School sophomores sign a pledge against gun violence in the Jonesboro High School courtroom. (Juma Sei/WABE)

Dwayne Dennis led with honesty when he spoke to the students, pledging against gun violence at Jonesboro High School (JHS).

“Imagine losing somebody that you loved,” Dennis said to the handful of teenagers gathered in the school’s courtroom.

“My firstborn child, my firstborn — the first time in my life that I loved something unconditionally and had something unconditionally love me.”

Photograph of Darian Dennis (1996-2021). (Courtesy of Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Home)

Dennis’ 24-year-old son Darian, was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day of 2021. 

“Losing a child is so traumatic and so unimaginable there’s not a word in the English language that describes [it],” he continued. 

Dennis is one of a couple of parents who spoke to students at their pledge, a commemoration of the Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence

Though young folks across the country have annually signed the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence since 1996, this is JHS’s second year commemorating the national call to action. 

Judah Whaley is a sophomore at JHS. He said that he sees the impact of gun violence in his community and beyond. 

“It’s kind of bigger than just me and what’s in my heart and mind, and it’s bigger than the classrooms that I’m in,” he said. “It’s about the city of Jonesboro, it’s about the state of Georgia, and it’s about the U.S. as a nation.”

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, gun violence remains the number one cause of death for children ages 1-19 at a rate of almost 5 in every 100,000. Black children are six times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers. (Photo by Getty Image Signature)

In Georgia, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens.

That is why Whaley is taking the pledge. 

“Humanity is kinda lost,” he added. “It’s once you see something, you immediately act, and you act in a violent way. So this is kind of important to get this to the youth that would enact this in their lives.”

Aidan Brooks is another JHS sophomore committed against gun violence. He said that the day’s event is emblematic of a county-wide commitment to keep students safe. 

“I’ve heard a lot about Clayton County being like the runt of the Atlanta metropolitan area,” Brooks continued. “But that’s simply not true. We take the most action out of any of these counties.”

In a meeting earlier this fall, Clayton County Public Schools (CCPS) Superintendent Anthony Smith said that school safety is the district’s number one priority for the year ahead. 

“Kids got to come home safe,” he said. “It means nothing to have a 4.0 if you’re being bullied every day or if you’re in danger of bodily harm.”

“We’ve done all of the necessary things to really highlight security in a grand fashion,” he added. 

In the last two years, CCPS has adopted a new crisis alert system, a new weapons detection system and doubled down on resources and personnel for perimeter security across school campuses. 

For Aidan Brooks, this kind of district-wide transparency about gun safety is essential for ensuring that the pledge against gun violence does not live in vain; it pairs a social commitment with tangible action.

“I will never bring a gun to school,” Brooks said at the end of the event, echoed by a chorus of his peers. 

“I will never use a gun to settle a personal problem or dispute,” they continued in unison. “My individual choices and actions, when multiplied by those of young people throughout the country, will make a difference.”