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Benton Harbor HS honors fallen students on ‘Peace Day’

Benton Harbor’s Class of 2017 lost four of their members during junior year. Before graduation on Friday, they paid tribute to them as part of the district’s ‘Peace Day.’

“The purpose of Peace Day is to save lives,” said one speaker.

“You’re out here because there are people that love you,” said Michigan State Police Trooper Duwayne Robinson.

“We want them to go through the summer having a safe, fun experience,” said Rita Seay, a Benton Harbor Area Schools employee who organized Peace Day.

The district’s annual event – held to send Benton Harbor’s students off to a safe summer – took on an even more important meaning this year.

“Their classmates continue to talk about them,” Seay said. “And to have one after another die was pretty devastating.”

The Class of 2017 graduates with four of their members looking down from above.

Two were killed in accidents.

Two because of violence.

The four deaths happened within nine months of each other during the 2015-2016 school year.

On Friday, a new memorial garden on the front lawn of the high school was dedicated in their honor.

“It was really hard,” said graduating senior Jurnee Agbowu, who is Miss Benton Harbor 2017. “But having the support system of our parents and our staff, it was just nice.”

“As I said when I was running for the title of Mr. Benton Harbor, whatever you go through, you do not have to go through alone,” said graduating senior Jalen Spencer, who is Mr. Benton Harbor 2017. “This proves it, today. There’s always somebody here for you.”

Students heard from speakers during Friday morning’s event.

They took a ‘Peace Day Pledge.’

They played music, prayed, and held a moment of silence.

The entire school community also paraded throughout the city with the school’s marching band and a police escort leading the way.

“We want to remind them that the streets could be a dangerous place for them if they don’t make good choices,” said Trooper Robinson.

Those mourning took turns pouring water onto a flower in tribute to their loved ones.

The new garden serves as a symbol of the students no longer here.

It’s a seed planted for strength, as mothers like Tonya Towns – whose son Travone drowned last summer – strive for safety.

“We all need to try to save our kids this summer,” Towns said. “We don’t need another loss with another class. I don’t need to see kids dead every single month or someone drowning or someone shot. This is just enough and it just needs to end.”

At graduation Friday evening, Towns accepted her son’s diploma in his honor.

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