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Young UT poets this spring poured their emotions into words, which they hope will bring solace to the mother of a fifteen-year-old local high school student who died while shielding three young girls from gunfire.

The poems, penned by students in an advanced undergraduate poetry class, were compiled into a memorial packet and mailed to Zenobia Dobson, the mother of Zaevion Dobson, last week.

Read them online.

“I know the feeling of losing a sibling to gun violence, so to be able to give back to a family that’s been through this means a lot to me,” said Clinton Ricks, a junior majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing, who lost a brother. “Hopefully when Ms. Dobson reads what we wrote, it will soothe her somewhat.”

The students will give a public reading of their poems Thursday, April 28. The event will take place at 12:45 p.m. in Room 1210 McClung Tower. Refreshments will be served.

The thirteen students decided to write the poems as tribute to Zaevion Dobson after their English professor, Marilyn Kallet, told them his story. Dobson was a Fulton High School football player who shielded three friends with his body as a group of men randomly fired bullets into a crowd. His sacrifice caught the nation’s attention.

Nick Bendeck, a senior English major in the class, noted that four months after Dobson’s death, the pain of his loss is likely still very fresh for his family.

“He was a good kid, and writing about him was good for everyone,” he said. “We wanted to offer this gesture of kindness to his mother.”

Bendeck said focusing on matters such as gun violence can be difficult, “but as poets, we can’t be afraid to write about things some people think you shouldn’t write about.”

Sending the poems is a way to let the Dobson family know the public is still thinking about them—particularly after Zaevion’s twelve-year-old cousin JaJuan Latham was killed recently in a random shooting, said Kallet.

“Poetry is a small thing we can do,” she said. “It’s like singing a lullaby, or singing a goodbye song in this case.”

Cover-with-noteThe students spent months revising the poems. Kallet recently threw some early drafts of the poems in her office recycling bin. The next day, she arrived in her office to find a note on her desk from a janitor.

“Professor Kallet,” the note began. “I read the paper about Zae Dobson. Just want to let you know when I read the paper in the recycling bin, I kind of lost myself with emotion and tears. Beautiful!!!” It was signed “Building Services.”

The note was an affirmation about the power of the students’ offering, Ricks said.

“As a young poet, that opened my eyes to what you can do with your craft and how you can affect the world,” he said. “You see the true power of words and the power that manuscript has on others.”

Learn more about the project on the Department of English website.



Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,