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Teen Who Died Shielding Friends From Gunfire Receives Arthur Ashe Courage Award

His mother delivered a powerful critique of gun culture

Facebook photo of Zaevion Dobson

Zaevion Dobson, the 15-year-old Tennessee football star who was shot to death in December while protecting his friends, was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards Wednesday night. His mother, Zenobia Dobson, stunned the crowd with her powerful acceptance speech.


“I’m here to urge all of you to join the movement tonight to save innocent lives,” Dobson said. “We need to rewrite laws. To make it harder for the people to get guns. Some progress has been made, but just a few months ago in Tennessee, a law was passed to allow people to carry more guns on college campuses. What sense does that make?”

Zaevion was not only a star athlete but a social activist and leader in his community—he was a prominent member of 100 Black Men of Greater Nashville. It appears his mother will carry on that activist legacy.

“I’m here to fight back,” she said, her voice unwavering and strong. “We as a country need to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on families throughout America. Oh yes.”

It’s a particularly charged moment for Dobson to receive this honor, as gun violence, particularly involving African-American men, has been at the forefront of our collective consciousness. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as horrific mass shootings like in Orlando, have prompted intense scrutiny of gun violence in America.

Dobson was killed last Dec. 17, after running off his porch to shield friends from gunfire. President Obama called him a hero, adding, “What’s our excuse for not acting?”

Every year the Arthur Ashe Award is awarded to athletes who show “strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril, and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” Past recipients have included Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela; last year, the award went—somewhat controversially—to Caitlyn Jenner.

Watch Zenobia Dobson’s full acceptance speech here.

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