MACON, Ga. — Last year, 15 Macon-Bibb county teens died from gun violence -- and authorities say much of that was due to gang violence.
At least 6 of those teens were Bibb County School students.
We talked to people about how that violence affects schools and communities.
Two of them are former Bibb students turned community leaders.
13WMAZ's Caleesha Moore talked to them about why it's happening and what needs to change.
The heartbeat of any community is its people, but neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, unresolved trauma, and so much more can lead to its destruction.
"You are talking about our high schoolers now are, and just our kids in general in Macon-Bibb, are interacting with guns and having PTSD and trauma from losing loved ones. I think you were saying earlier I think we lost 16 to gun violence this year. Those are now thousands of kids that now know violence and now know loss on the way that none of us would want to know," said Virgil Watkins.
Fifteen teens died in 2022 to gun violence - and 2 were students at Westside High.
When they died, three students were enrolled at Soar Academy, Bibb County's alternative school, and one was a middle schooler at Appling.
"The gun culture, parts of the hip hop culture have become more prevalent than anything that we've seen mixed with poverty, mixed with the stress and trauma that the kids are dealing with and again, not to under highlight that we are dealing with areas with a lot of concentrated poverty," Watkins continued.
Virgil Watkins is a product of Bibb Schools and is now a County Commissioner.
He says trauma and stress create a cycle that hasn't been broken but has only accelerated.
"A hurt tooth will cause a lot of problems in a community. If your tooth is hurting, you don't care what the other man got going on, you need relief, and they may come in the form of armed robbery trying to get a tooth taken out," he said.
The Bibb County Sheriff's Office gang task force says kids involved in gangs at a very young age join from peer influence, and they also say there are so many gangs in the schools it's hard to pinpoint which gangs are more prevalent.
With gang influence bleeding over into schools, the county's educators see the problem up close and personal.
"Our students, our youth in this community, are crying out for our support, and of course, again, the purpose of our education system is to provide them with a quality education, but what we need is more of a strategic approach for our community to fully show up for our students and our youth," said Juawn Jackson.
Jackson is a Westside High School graduate and now the youngest school board chairman in the county's history.
Jackson says within schools, they lean on school counselors and programs to make a change.
"We have initiatives such as the show-up campaign where we are trying to get students, parents, and teachers to show up each and every day as
the best version of themselves so we can continue to ensure the greater success of each and every student," Jackson said.
While from a county perspective, Watkins says the county's MVP plan will help.
"Some of our biggest ideas out of there include the violence interrupters program, which their goal is to be boots on the ground, crisis management, peacekeeping responses," Watkins said.
The Gang Taskforce also said Bibb County has at least 400 gangs.