KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Community advocate Zenobia Dobson was among 17 people who were granted clemency Thursday from Gov. Bill Lee.
Many first met Dobson following the 2015 shooting death of her son Zaevion – the Fulton High School student and football player who was shot while shielding friends from gunfire.
Since his death, Zenobia has become an advocate against violence. She started her work here but eventually spread her message across the country and around the globe. It was Zenobia’s work in the community following Zaevion’s death that played a role in earning her a pardon from Lee.
Zenobia’s difficult past started even before Zaevion’s death. When Zaevion was a baby, Zenobia was battling substance abuse, and found herself on the wrong side of the law, facing jail time for shoplifting.
“I went to jail for a minute,” Dobson said. “It wasn’t long but they held me until it was time to go to a halfway house, which was a recovery center for women. I just celebrated my sobriety of twenty-one years clean of substance abuse.”
Dobson says her time behind bars changed her forever.
“After that, my life began to change and it molded me into the woman I am today,” she said. “It does not define me, I define who I am.”
She says her son Zaevion – who was just a baby at the time – saved her life before he ever saved anyone else’s.
“I was in court, I faced the judge and was like, ‘Zenobia, I’m going to give you a chance and I’m really thinking about your baby and your kids’,” she recalled. “And I was just like well you know hey, just let me go home and she wasn’t having it, she wasn’t doing that. She was just like I see your potential and I want you to be a mother and go home to your children…
“Zaevion saved my life first. I know he did. And when I heard the news that night about his death, I understood it to the fullest.”
Even after the sudden death of her son, she stayed clean and out of trouble. She channeled her pain into advocacy work in her community. It’s what led to the unexpected phone call she received Thursday afternoon.
“I heard my phone ringing and I was like that’s my phone,” Dobson said. “So I ran to the back and I saw where it was like a private number so I picked it up and it was Governor Lee.”
This pardon has been a long time coming for Dobson. She says she applied for a pardon once before when former Gov. Bill Haslam was in office, but was denied. Now she has a fresh start, and more chances to continue making Zaevion proud.
“I just want to continue to advocate and continue to be a mother to my sons, a grandmother to my grandson and continue to bless the youth in my community,” Dobson said.
She says several local politicians advocated for her pardon, including state Rep. Sam McKenzie of Knoxville.
“I wrote a letter on her behalf, I met with the general counsel, I met with several of the governor’s special assistants just to put a human aspect to it,” he said. “I’m sure (Gov. Lee) gets all kind of letters from the boards and from offenders themselves but just to really say this person is one you should strongly consider and the work she’s done, just to lay it all out there, like I said, her application, it reads for itself because of the work that she’s done.”