AKRON, Ohio — In Shannon Turick's 10th grade language arts class at Buchtel High School, many of the students carry tragic memories and share deeply emotional stories.
Several of them have been personally touched by the spike in gun violence in Akron in recent years.
That includes Ne'Iya Irvine whose cousin Na'Kia Crawford, 18, who was shot and killed last summer while driving her grandmother back from errands. Another teenager, Adarus Black, is charged with the murder. He remains at large, according to police.
"She just graduated. She had a lot of stuff going for her and she talked to me about all the stuff I'm doing in school, just to stay on the right track and stuff," Irvine said.
Another Buchtel student, Emya Turner, lost an uncle to gun violence and has a connection to an even younger homicide victim.
"I know a 2-year-old that lost their life over gun violence for just being there," she said.
Turick delved into the deeply sensitive issue with an assignment that challenged the students to design a campaign for peace in Akron using whatever platform they felt was appropriate.
"I've been a teacher for 20 years and I've lost a lot of students to gun violence," Turick said. "The idea was showing them that they are the future and they are the ones that, if we want to break this cycle of violence, they are going to be the ones to do it."
To prepare for the assignment, the class read the book Long Way Down, which explores whether a teen will seek revenge for his brother's murder.
The students also received guidance from Tim Anderson who leads Akron-based Fallen Father Foundation, a non-profit that helps at-risk youth.
The teens took the assignment to heart keeping the city's murder rate in mind. There were 50 murders in Akron in 2020. In 2021, 42 people have been murdered in the city— mostly from gunfire— and 12 of those killings happened within two miles of Buchtel High School.
The students came up various ways to send anti-violence messages, including making a short movie, creating TikTok videos, and designing posters.
A group in the classroom made a short video that acted out a robbery and a shooting. But the video also stressed what should have happened, an alternative to violence.
"Instead of robbing somebody, literally just help them out. 'How did you get that? Can you help me get that?'" said student Davii Singleton.
Many of the posters displayed the names and photos of young homicide victims with the words "Gun Violence Awareness" and "Stop The Violence."
"It's just important for [teens] to speak up so we can can help stop it and see what's happening and where we can draw the line," said student Chris Williams.
"If we really want to stop the violence, we all have to come together," another student said during his presentation.
Other teens talked about their school violence fears which were heightened following the tragic shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan last month.
"All the killing. Bringing guns to school, social media, people posting guns. Kids, they're only like 12-years-old posting guns," said student Damien Johnson. "A bullet don't got a name on it. It can hit anybody."
Another student, Jacquez Edwards, revealed that he was bullied in middle school.
"It was bad. It was bad. I thought about bringing a knife to school just to defend myself," he said.
The students acknowledged it's no easy task to find solutions to gun violence, but they believe it's important to keep trying.
"Think greatly of yourself. Don't be influenced easily by other people and what they're doing," Edwards said.
"When kids are young, they're real impressionable, so if I can show younger kids like gun violence is not okay, stay on the right path and stuff," Irvine added.
Turick called the projects "amazing" and said the work done by the teens inspires her to be a better person.
"One of the best things one of the kids said to me was that she used to think you couldn't break this cycle of violence, but now she believes that you can," Turick said.