Story and photos by Daniel Friedman
Bullying is a big issue in the media and on school campuses. When I was a kid, a bully was someone who sought you out, harassed, harangued and beat you up for no other reason than because they could and took delight in it. Normally though, friends came to your aid and/or the bully would catch a fist to the nose or some other humiliation and the problem would go away.
I went to an assembly at Trevor G Browne High School Friday led by Erahm Christopher of Teen Truth Live. Though bullying was the buzzword upon which the assembly was advertised, the definition of bullying was enlarged to encompass many behaviors found in a school setting. Slides during the video included, “Spreading a Rumor is Bullying”, “Excluding someone is Bullying”, as well as the obvious, “A Physical Attack is Bullying.” Just the rumor aspect alone would label nearly everyone as a bully.
I talked to Erahm after the assembly and he said that bullying is the hot button so principals want to see bullying in the title of the presentation. That’s he says we ”get our foot in the door and deliver our message.”
His message was that kids feel alienated and disconnected from their peers and from their parents. They have no one to turn to except maybe other students who are equally disconnected and in the extreme case act out their aggression. The only way to make things better was to be a positive force in the community by doing something as simple as not calling someone a name, or making fun of them for their appearance, background or disability. And to say something, tell someone and do something if there is a problem. It sounded a lot like “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Christopher started his mission of building community after the Columbine shooting in 1999 when he found that kids just wanted someone who would listen to them.
In Michael Moore’s documentary on the Columbine shootings and the culture of guns and violence in America, “Bowling for Columbine”, the rock musician Marilyn Manson, whose violent stage persona has been blamed for violent behavior, is asked what he would have said to students at Columbine. His response is probably the most logical of anyone Moore interviewed in the documentary, says, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”
That was Erahm’s message to the students at Trevor Browne, North High and North Canyon, the three schools he visited during his swing through the Valley: Tell someone how you are feeling before you do something you’ll regret. And to the community as a whole take the time to pay attention to the people in their community, as people are hurting and need to be included. Hence the notion that exclusion is bullying.
Christopher related his experience from high school how he had been physically threatened by another student and was on the verge of taking a shotgun to school but as luck would have it his brother noticed something was wrong, looked in his gym bag where he had stashed the gun, stopped him. His brother said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” His parents were told, they called the police and the boy who had threatened Erahm was arrested.
Teen Truth Live was there because Arizona Special Olympics Project Unify wants to include within prevention bullying, the idea that excluding special needs students or using the “r-word” is also part of positive community building. Special Athlete Charles Calhoun, and Project Unity partner Chelsy Essig, a senior at Trevor Brown spoke about their experiences being bullied and excluded by family, friend and peers.
The assembly only lasted 50 minutes as that was all the school could allot to the presentation that normally runs 70 minutes. Christopher had to take out much of the interactive sections to save time. To be effective, Christopher admits the message needs to be heard for more than for 50 minutes. Schools that embrace the entire program do pre- and post-assembly activities as well as offer the presentation to the parents. Building a supportive community takes more than 50 or 70 minutes, during one afternoon in the school gymnasium.
If kids feel disconnected and alienated as the video suggests, where are the parents? A child’s first connection is their own family and especially their parents. So it it that parents are working more than ever? During the recession of the early 1980s two-career households started to become the norm, and households became busier. And with the recent recession, parents struggle to find and keep jobs, making live even busier and more hectic.