Nearly a decade later, the story of one young man still brings DeMica Robinson to tears.
“He had it kind of hard,” DeMica recalled. “He lived in Cheatham County, so I had to go up there as a probation officer and see him. This one particular day I couldn’t get up there to see him, and I called him and said ‘I’m going to come and see you tomorrow.'”
But DeMica found out he died by suicide. She told herself she had to do something to reach young people before they got in trouble with the law.
“I felt like, there needed to be something like I could, what could I do?” DeMica asked herself.
At the urging of a friend, DeMica took a criminal justice teaching position. She incorporates real-world cases and things she saw as a probation officer into her lessons.
“Step outside, that’s all you have to do, and see you know what it is that these young people are going through,” DeMica said. “Just trying to be a light and encourage them to do something positive.”
DeMica has overcome challenges herself. Her mother died when DeMica was just 15, and she had her first child when she was 18 in high school. But she persevered to graduate from college and get her master’s degree.
“I use my own stories and let them know that your story is safe with me. We can work through this and talk and work it out,” DeMica said. “In the end, you’ll have something positive to take away (with) you.”
DeMica has been teaching for eight years and was just recently named the Cane Ridge High School Teacher of the Year, but her passion for helping others reaches beyond the classroom. In 2019, she was on a trip home to visit her family in Knoxville, when she noticed a large homeless community downtown.
“I woke up one morning, and I got on Facebook and I said, ‘Hey, everybody, I want to buy 100 drawstring bags and 100 water bottles, and we’re gonna fill them up with different things for the homeless. I just want to do this on Thanksgiving Day.'”
Friends and family joined the effort, and in 2020, they upgraded to backpacks and doubled the number they gave out. But in 2021, DeMica lost two of her cousins and her beloved grandmother. She was dealing with too much grief to organize the backpack drive.
“I remember sleeping; I was laying in the bed, and I was like, ‘God, there is so much going on. Why do we have to have all this tragedy?” DeMica asked in prayer.
But then, DeMica said her late grandmother spoke to her.
“I heard her and she was like, ‘You know what you have to do. Stay the course.’ So I had a push through my pain,” she said.
And she did. 2021 was their largest drive yet. Her group, called The Community of Givers, gathered 500 backpacks filled with cold-weather essentials, toiletries, and clothing. They handed them out in Knoxville, Murfreesboro, and on the streets of Nashville with enough left over to donate to the Nashville Rescue Mission.
“They’re homeless, but they’re human,” DeMica said. “We have conversations with them; we pray with them. Whatever they need, we just try to provide that.”
DeMica is a Navy reservist and participates in prison ministry all while being a mom of two and a sister to six siblings. DeMica says her mother instilled in her a drive to give back.
“She told me about God and how he loves me. He served, so our duty is to serve others. I do that because I was made that way; I was created to serve,” DeMica said.