As tens of thousands of students across the nation recently marched to protest gun violence in schools and fight for change in gun laws, 10-year-old Groves Elementary student Dezmond Floyd (Dez) and his classmates have had to prepare for the worst.
Active shooter drills are now commonplace in schools, and Dez’s class does them every month. The February drill is not one that he, his teacher or his mother are likely to ever forget.
The drill went the way it always does, but it was the first one after the Parkland, Fla., shootings where 17 children and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School tragically lost their lives. The Parkland massacre was heavy on Dez’s mind and led him to make a monumental decision for anyone, let alone a 10-year-old. Dez and three of his friends volunteered to move a table in front of the classroom door in the event of an active shooter incident. He also decided that day that he will be the student who stands in front of his classmates to draw the fire from the shooter’s gun in order to protect them.
“My friends are kind of like family members to me. My friends have helped me through some tough stuff, and I felt like it’s kind of giving back to them,” Dez explained. He is clear that following through on his words could cost him his life and said that he is prepared to do so, though he knows his mom would be very sad to lose him.
Dez’s mother, Tanai Benard, said her son’s decision makes her proud but terrifies her as well. She added that she understands a teacher will not be able to do everything alone if an active shooter incident occurs. She is not angry with her son’s teacher because he volunteered to help move the table, and his teacher was not aware of his decision to stand in front until Benard called to inform her of what Dez had said.
Benard posted the conversation she had with her son on Facebook, which resulted in a viral social media response. Dez was asked to appear at the march in Houston March 24.
“I accept that someone has to be on the front, and if it’s someone who chooses to be there, well, everybody can’t be on the back row. One teacher can’t protect the class of 23 either,” Benard said.
It is obvious Dez has accepted active shooter drills and the potential for gun violence in his school as well, but he says it makes him feel, “…scary and disappointed. Scary because it can happen in our schools any time and they’re killing such young innocent kids. It’s disappointing that America has come to a point where we have to do all these drills. We shouldn’t have to fear going to school. Our alarms shouldn’t be guns. If we weren’t doing these active shooter drills, we’d be learning.”
In response to questions asked in an effort to understand why he is so willing to place himself in harm’s way and even die for his classmates, Dez said, “My mom and my family are strong believers in the Bible, and well, you can’t be God, but you can be God-like.” The words are spoken quietly, matter-of-factly, but they are no less convincing. They are a testament to the statement written boldly across the black hoodie he sports, “Young, Black and Purposed.”
Dez’s decision is particularly tough for his mom. She said she struggles with what to do with his decision after having taught him to be kind, to be helpful and to think about other people besides himself.
“Do I now tell him not to do that?” she asked. On hearing his words about being God-like, Benard took a deep breath, looked at her son with a mixture of pride, respect and trepidation and said quietly, “I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’ve raised a very kind and humble person with a good heart. I’ve asked him not to do it several times and he said that it’s not my choice, that it’s his choice. He’s adamant that if it was to ever happen, he would still do the same thing.”
The issue is two-fold for Benard, who is a teacher at Humble Middle School in addition to being a mom to Dez, his 13-year-old sister, Iyanna, and 11-year-old brother, Zavien. She expressed frustration at her and her son being put in a situation she believes is totally unfair.
“I think people underestimate what all teachers have to do,” said Benard. “We’re counselors, educators and parents to the kids we serve. Everyone automatically assumes that our first job is being a teacher, but it’s not. If I’m a parent, my first job is to be a parent. I now have to choose between protecting my students and going home to my children. I mean, do I protect the 22 or do I choose to go home to my three? That’s not fair.”
Benard feels teachers’ voices have been represented in the discourse about guns in schools.
“We’re represented through our students and our children. I had the ability to allow my son to represent me as an educator, and that speaks volumes,” she said.