A candle light vigil in honor of Zyion Charles and Cameron Jackson took place on the 17th Street Bridge Friday, December 2. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Bishop Dexter Johnson, Senior Pastor at Higher Ground Empowerment Center in Vine City, closed his prayer with a simple message: “Our assignment is to teach one another to love one another.”

Friday night on the 17th Street Bridge near Atlantic Station a vigil was held to both address the recent deaths of a pair of teenagers, 12-year-old Zyion Charles and 15-year-old Cameron Jackson by gun violence and gun violence in Atlanta in general. Seeing all of the media on hand and the attention the two unfortunate deaths have garnered Johnson quipped, “This is not just a lights, cameras, action show tonight.”

A member of 10,000 Fearless addresses the crowd during the vigil. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

The deaths of Charles and Jackson are indeed leading the local news and appearing in the front pages of local newspapers (including this one) because of the tragedy of lives lost too soon. Besides the media double-parking on the sidewalk between the Microsoft campus and the I-75 off-ramp, celebrities, Dr. Bernice King and rapper Young Dro, showed up to show support. So in a way pastor Johnson is incorrect, it was a show, but a very necessary one in order to shine a positive light on a very negative situation.

Reverend Wendy Torres prayed for the young men in Atlanta. “Speak to them in their dreams Lord, speak to them in their visions Lord, show them that they are worthy.”

Also in attendance Friday night were supporters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), 10,000 Fearless, a local organization and individual youth advocates like author and public speaker Kenyata Martin and Dr.Omar Howard. Both of the latter were incarcerated at a point in their lives and know where the young men that used guns to end the lives of Charles and Jackson are headed because of the choices they made that night.

Kenyata Martin spent a decade in prison as a youth and now talks to kids about avoiding the path he took.
Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

Martin was sentenced to 10 years in prison as a 13-year-old. “If those guys that pulled that trigger knew the law they would have thought twice,” he said. “I try to tell these kids when I go to talk at schools that the shooter is getting a mandatory 10 years.”

Howard spent time in prison as well and is now working as a life coach and peer mentor at his company, Freedom is a Choice, Inc. He was on hand to lend his support, but to also see how many members of the community were going to participate. More than two-dozen people made their way to the spot on the bridge where the vigil was being held. “We have to get out here and mentor these kids,” he said. “It’s sad and unfortunate that the community doesn’t come together more often because we’re going to see these problems more often.”

When the small white candles were first lit the wind would occasionally lead to them being blown out. That all stopped when the prayers began. “Give us wisdom Lord God to show them love, give us direction Lord God to show them grace,” Torres prayed. “In the matchless name of Jesus Christ would you do that for us. Amen.”

Candles in the shape of the initials of two boys killed by gun violence near the 17th Street Bridge, Cameron Johnson and Zyion Charles, light up the night Friday, December 2. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

The candles in the shape of a “CJ” and a “ZC” remained lit longer after her prayers were done.

What’s next: Tuesday night at Higher Ground Empowerment Center, pastor Johnson and others will hold what he described as a “strategy meeting” in order to discuss the next steps to slowing down and ultimately stopping gun deaths of Black youths in Atlanta.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...