Instead of watching her son graduate high school in 2010, Shenee Johnson took the stage that year and received 17-year-old Kedrick Ali Morrow Jr.’s diploma — one month after burying the teen.
Kedrick was accidentally shot and killed while attending a graduation party in Queens just a month shy of finishing high school and earning an academic scholarship to St. John’s University where was planning to study law.
Although the teen never got to graduate, the nonprofit New Yorkers Against Gun Violence this year is giving Kedrick the chance to have a yearbook signed — and hopefully bring some change.
“It doesn’t matter where you live anymore, anyone can join this club and no one wants to belong to it,” Johnson said. “I don’t think that any parent has to suffer and bury our children. Our children have to bury us.”
The New York teen is just one of 11 US students — including one Sandy Hook victim — that are featured in a posthumous yearbook created for victims of gun violence from across the country.
The project humanizes startling gun violence statistics. According to New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, in the last 15 years more than 30,000 young Americans have lost their lives in gun-related violence before finishing high school.
In New York City just last week a 16-year-old girl was shot by a submachine gun while babysitting her cousin at her Brooklyn home.
The yearbook — which features victims of suicide, accidental shootings, gang-related violence and more — is designed just like a regular one but instead contains photographs of the victims and gives details on the schools they attended, quotes on who they were, and when and how they died.
All of the victims featured in the yearbook are 17 or younger.
“Akeal was 14 when he was shot and passed away from his injuries on his 15th birthday,” the yearbook says below a photo of Akeal Christopher of Brooklyn.
Individuals are able to sign the books for the students online and along with offering these teens a yearbook they never got the opportunity to have, the books will also serve as a petition that will be handed over to Congress.
“This is enough, because there are going to be more children that are never going to get a chance to be in their yearbook and never going to get the chance to graduate if we don’t act now,” Johnson said.
Through creating the yearbook, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, along with the families of the students, are calling for the strengthening of American gun laws most specifically universal background checks on gun purchases.
Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said the release of the yearbook comes during a time when most students are celebrating graduations and they felt like it was the perfect time to spread awareness and put real faces to an issue affecting families nationwide.
“We wanted to profile the toll that gun deaths take on kids in particular,” Barrett said.
She added that although the gun laws in New York are strong — with background checks required on all gun sales, handgun licensing and recertification requirements, and limits imposed on high capacity ammunition weapons— there is still more that needs to be done.
According to the group, New York State has the fourth lowest gun death rate in the country and gun deaths in the state have gone down 15 percent over the last 15 years.
However, Barrett said that the state is still prone to firearms coming in illegally from other states and inspections need to be done more frequently to prevent illegal sales.
And though the group is not expecting the yearbook to bring upon instant change, they do believe it will open people’s eyes and hopefully push for more reforms.
“This is a huge loss of potential when these kids are taken. They all had aspirations, they all had hopes and dreams,” Barrett said. “Every life is valuable, especially a young life, and we as a nation need to wake up.”
The yearbook can be signed at signtheiryearbook.com.