After Michelle Stewart’s 19-year-old son was shot and killed in March, the people around her thought mourning wasn’t enough.
They knew their tears wouldn’t stop bullets from firing out of guns in the future.
But maybe their story could.
Out of the sorrow of one tragedy, a group of parents, friends and supporters have started Save our Students, an outreach program that will go into schools to talk to children about violence and bullying. The group plans to tour Richmond County schools once a month to mentor students and warn them about the dangers of negative choices.
The group asked the Richmond County Board of Education Tuesday for permission to go into schools to do outreach and learned there were a few obstacles to get past first.
Although the board members strongly supported the effort, they asked the group to return next month with more specifics about the program and how they will approach each school so there will be no legal conflict or interference with class time.
“We got a few little kinks to work out first,” said board attorney Pete Fletcher.
Once SOS is approved by the board, member Annettea Mills said the group will have seminars and mentoring sessions each month at all elementary, middle and high schools.
Mothers of teenagers killed by gunfire will share their experiences and put faces on the stories heard in the news.
“We just want to tell them ‘I’m sure you don’t want ya’lls mommas and daddies to stand up here with a picture because that’s all they have left of you,’” Stewart said.
Stewart’s son, James Gillette Jr., was killed in March while working at the Belair Conference Center during a 16th birthday party for a grandchild of the late James Brown. After a fight broke out at the center and the 200 to 300 guests were told to leave, shots fired outside and a bullet hit Gillette in the abdomen.
After his death, Stewart’s sister in law, Annettea Mills, started talking with coworkers and community members about what could be done to stop the violence.
She easily gathered a team to found SOS and said she hopes the effort will be a consistent reminder to the community about violence.
“We do not want to keep burying our students,” Mills said. “We want to enhance them. We want to them to further themselves. We just got to stop this.”
However gun violence is not the only issue SOS will talk about. The team will also address the increase of bullying in schools and the struggle teens have with self-esteem.
As the SOS team approached the school board Tuesday for approval, a mother in the audience gained some hope.
Jennifer Ford said her daughter, a 5th grader at Hephzibah Elementary School, is brutally teased at school for her weight.
At four-foot three and 112 pounds, Ford’s daughter said each class is another chance for name calling and teasing.
And although her daughter has found relief through playing music, she needs more emotional support from the community, Ford said.
That’s where she now Knows SOS will come in.
“I’d bring her to every meeting to build her confidence if I could,” Ford said. “I take pride in my children...I raised them, but I’m a single mom and I can’t do it all. Now that I heard about this, this gives us hope.”