Anna June's school let out for Christmas break on Friday, December 18.
On the evening of Saturday, December 19, a horrible accident near Birmingham killed three people and injured the other two passengers. Among the dead were two 8-year-old boys, Cardell Coachman and Jakobe Johnson. Jakobe attended Anna June's school and was in Mrs. Martin's Third Grade Class.
Anna June did not know Jakobe but we do know several children in that class. Even so, breaking the news to her was an unreal experience. A couple of days before, this Lego-loving little boy had been enjoying pajama day, just like AJ. Then, suddenly, he was gone.
Our PTA board organized a candlelight vigil at the school. Many of our community, including students, teachers, parents, family, friends, Birmingham Board of Education members and the superintendent came to support each other through this devastating news.
It was the first time I'd ever been to a candlelight vigil. AJ and Ben decided to stay home, so I, as one of the PTA volunteers, bought some lighters and met our president at the school, who borrowed the candles from the church where she works.
I hope I never have to go to another one, especially another one for a child. It was devastating. I made my way through the crowd, lighting candles and encouraging people to share their light with each other. It was raining, and the wind under the carport where we had all gathered made it difficult to get the candles to hold the flames. I had to re-light a lot. I had to maneuver my way into holding the lighter just right and my hands just so the wind wouldn't completely negate my effort. Soloists sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children." A pastor prayed. The superintendent, principal and teacher spoke.
The accident was caused by a drunk driver, who is now in jail and charged with the three murders. The man's blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.
It has been more than a month since the funeral. There are photos of Jakobe up at the school's front door. It touches me every day I drive up to the school or walk in that way. What a tragedy.
We've all been wanting to "DO SOMETHING!" because of this completely avoidable, nonsensical, awful loss of life. First of all, the teachers immediately got together and sent the family gift cards, money, and food. Then, the PTA headed up a school-wide effort to collect money for the family, and I believe we raised enough to pay for the remaining funeral expenses. It was clearly the saddest thing I could hope to do as a treasurer. This was on one of the envelopes:
For myself, I can only say that the thing that I am doing is to stop joking about alcohol. I am online constantly, and there are so many hilarious jokes involving drinking. I previously jokingly sent a funny meme to the PTA officers that said we could raise a lot more money if the "Box Tops for Education" program extended to wine labels. But for me, the time has come to stop glorifying drinking. I am not likely to stop drinking, but I can stop making it seem like beer, wine, and other things that literally numb you are to be honored. It won't change our culture, but this loss has changed me. I have started thinking about families who have been victims of crashes such as these, and even those in recovery who are trying to do better. If I re-post that joke about opening a store called Forever 39 that sells wine and yoga pants, what am I telling our kids? Especially the one that looks over my shoulder?
Regardless, I hope that each of these children at Avondale, all of Jakobe's friends, becomes like those candles - struggling against the wind in such darkness, but overcoming the night with the help of the flames from those around them. May God have mercy.
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