KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Students, and faculty of Austin-East Magnet High School came together in solidarity against gun violence Friday afternoon in an anti-violence parade through the community.
The parade was also in remembrance of the five Austin-East students killed by gun violence since January.
“Despite everything that happened, we’re going to lift up their names and we’re going to celebrate their lives,” said Kyniya Hutchinson, an Austin-East junior.
Students wore T-shirts and carried banners with pictures of some of their fallen classmates.
The idea for a parade came from Austin-East West African drum instructor, Obayana Ajanaku. He says the deaths of five Austin-East students this year has greatly impacted his students. He’s also dealt with gun violence in his own neighborhood.
“I have a bullet hole in my house right now,” Ajanaku said. “When Stanley passed away, he was in my class so we lost one of our classmates. So every time I look at his drum I remember him.”
Ajanaku says when students returned to school after the death of Stanley Freeman Jr, one in particular wanted to drum to release all the feelings they had bottled up.
“Stanley’s best friend came to class and the first thing he told me is ‘I want to drum’. So we all drummed together and he just drummed his heart out, his emotions out, to the point where he took his shirt off. That’s when I knew it was time to get this going.”
It was after that experience Ajanaku says he got to work planning the parade. One student’s form of release, became this drum instructor’s mission. He says he solicited the help of local organizations and city leaders, including Vice-Mayor Gwen McKenzie.
Ajanaku says his goal was to promote anti-violence and show kids that there are outlets for their emotions other than violence.
“I want to make sure we give kids another option to help them deal with stressful things. And so when they’re angry, they can just go and play their drums instead of thinking about doing anything violent,” Ajanaku said.
Ajanaku says his hope is that his message — drums up, guns down– reaches beyond the walls of Austin-East and into the community.
The parade started at Austin-East. Students marched down Martin Luther King avenue to Walter Hardy Park where they continued to drum and dance. Students say this was an opportunity for them to remember their classmates while sending a message of non-violence to their community.
“This was just one thing to bring AE and the community back together and to end gun violence. We’re anti gun violence regardless of what did or didn’t happen in or around our school,” Hutchinson said.
Neighbors lined the sidewalks as the students passed, cheering them on and dancing to their music.
Earlier in the day, Leadership Knoxville presented the school with a check for $39,000 to go toward a digital message board.
A pep rally was held Friday morning at the school prior to the parade. WATE 6 On Your Side’s Tearsa Smith was proud to speak, telling the students their tragedy does not define them.