A handout that was being distributed during the ‘Stand With Me’ rally Thursday night. (Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice)

“Enough is enough” echoed throughout the Atlanta Public School (APS) Student Advisory Council “Stand With Me” rally Thursday night outside Atlanta City Hall.

The rally comes after the shooting deaths of 12-year-old Zyion Charles and 15-year-old Cameron Jacksonon on the 17th Street Bridge near Atlantic Station in November. This comes as guns have now become the leading cause of death for children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In May, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) reported Atlanta had 66 shooting deaths so far this year, with Black males making up 56 of those fatalities.

“We were all given this precious gift called life. We live in a world where each life has value, but it is not valued,” said Midtown High School senior Zion Byrd. “Who are we to say who deserves a seat at the table and who doesn’t? Who are we to take a gift so precious and destroy it?”

Byrd said her mother once told her you never know true despair and heartbreak until you lose a child.

“How can we go about our daily routines knowing that two young lives who had their futures ahead of them had their gift of life taken away from them?,” she said. “Last month, our friends died. Last month, our brothers died. Last month, our sons died,” she continued. “Say their names! Zion Charles and Cameron Jackson.”

Many times, Byrd said, people fail to realize that behind every name, there is a person no matter how young or old they were. Additionally, Byrd said the morning before the rally, her classmates had to be evacuated to Piedmont Park due to a bomb threat. That was the second threat of violence to Midtown High School since September.

“When will enough be enough? How many more of us must die before we see change? We the youth of Atlanta demand and deserve change. We deserve to grow up with our peers and our mothers deserve to watch their children grow up and flourish,” she said.

Student Advisory Council Chairwoman and Drew Charter School senior Eleanor Jones said the rally is important because “too often, we are experiencing the youth of Atlanta become victims of gun violence either by death or to the prison system.”

“Our youth, especially young black men need to be protected, supported, and heard. Tragedy has struck our community once again while out for a holiday break and it is movements like these that are designed to help us heal, but also create solutions that fix the problem,” she said.

Jones also said having mental health programs put in place will help keep youths off the street to give them the love and support they need and not lead them to a path of violence to find worthiness.

“It’s important to let our legislators know that we, as students, are feeling the pain of the gun violence, first-hand,” Jones said.

Also, students garnered the attention from a few of Atlanta’s and Fulton County’s power players to their rally, including the mayor, police chief and sheriff, in which they proposed a ten-point plan to begin to end violence and save young lives.

“My pastor always says, ‘love ought to look like something’. Our love needs to look like protection, said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens. “Love looks like protecting, holding the hands of these young people.”

However, Mayor Dickens said, love should look like a correction as well.

“I can’t have you go uncorrected and say, ‘I love you’. I can’t have you be mannish and undisciplined and still say that I love you,” he said. “Love ought to look like opportunities as well as correction. Sometimes we must correct ourselves, our behaviors, the things we dislike in society. If you pull a gun or knife and harm someone in this city, you will go to jail. That’s a part of the correction.”

Mayor Dickens also added that Atlanta has “carrots” and those carrots are the Summer Youth Employment Program, where the city employs over 3,000 youths.

“It looks like midnight basketball where hundreds of youths and teens are playing basketball. It looks like promise centers that are open for you to learn how to code, learn how to make music, play games, do STEM exercises,” he said. “Love looks like opportunities, but also correction, so parents I’m asking you to know where your children are, make sure your phone is connected to their phone. Let’s parent this city together.”

The Year of the Youth

Dickens also declared 2023 as “The Year of the Youth,” where businesses and organizations must find ways to implement and develop youth engagement within their company.

“If you’re paving roads in this town, figure out how to have youth involved. If you’re a telecom or communications company in this town, you better talk about how this is going to benefit you,” he said. “Everything we do is to make sure our goals and aims are aligned with helping people get to their purpose in life.”

Year of the Youth, Dickens said, is where Atlanta will ensure they start the journey to make the city the best place in the country to raise a child.

As the father of a 17-year-old daughter, Dickens said he believes in “our children”.

“When we hear young people gun down and unable to reach their destiny in life, it tugs and pulls at us to act,” he said. “I’m proud that this call to action and rally was not my idea, but it came to our students and our youth. They want to have their voices heard and actions set to come behind it.”

“To all the scholars and student leaders who are speaking their truth and asking for support….we hear you, we see you, we join you, and we love you,” APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring (above) said during the rally. (Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice)

APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring said APS will not only act, but will continue to be steadfast in schools and within the community to do the work that guarantees scholars with a safe, successful future and life.

“To all the scholars and student leaders who are speaking their truth and asking for support, I want to communicate to you on behalf of our school board and administration and the 6,000 employees that make up Atlanta Public Schools, we hear you, we see you, we join you, and we love you,” she said.

Herring also said they will always champion youths stepping up because they recognize youths are not only the future, but it takes everyone to come together to ensure that the youths make it to see their future come to life.

To the adults, Herring said the relationship with their children matters now more than ever.

“When we see our scholars, we see hope, promise, we see future leaders. Yet in this moment, we also see pain, fear, and anxiety, and scholars you will not navigate that alone.”

Atlanta Public Schools, Herring said, has made available and will continue to make available more support services at no cost for families and children who need it.

“Adults, for any child or young adult that you know, while we go into this season, take the time to love on them, to listen to them, to learn with them, and to walk with them,” she said. “When we return, let the school system know how we can work with you.”

Throughout the rally, students spoke their truths and put a call to action towards their elected leaders and community demanded more money for more law enforcement on and off campus, for example, and for more extensive after-school programs, and for greater access to mental health therapy and counseling for families in order to restore broken homes.

The Student Advisory Council acknowledged that it is only beginning its work with their next step, which includes going to the State Legislature next month to lobby for state-wide programs they hope will help young people survive their childhoods.

Break in the school schedule

The rally took place a night before the last day of school before the annual holiday break. This is a date chosen by the student advisory council to make a special plea to their peers to remain safe and make wise choices over the winter holiday break.

The rally also included a citywide moment of silence to honor gun violence victims.

Additionally, Dickens said on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 9 a.m., there will be a “Save Our Sons” mentorship program inside city hall.

“Come one, come all. Bring your sons, bring your mentorship programs because we want to see you, we want to see your kids and we want to talk to them about opportunities for them to be mentored, to be supported, and have things that they can do in this society,” he said.

For more information on APS or the Student Advisory Council, visit https://www.atlantapublicschools.us/domain/16900.

For more information on the Summer Youth Employment program, visit https://www.atlyouthengage.com/.