“Take Back Dignity,” a bully-free community meeting, was held at the Herkimer Reformed Church on Thursday night.
The meeting included a presentation on bullying, guest speakers with first-hand bullying experiences, and a community involved question and answer session.
Take Back Dignity Coordinator Christine Lawrence defined bullying as an imbalance of power between one person or group and another.
“Every person knows someone who has been bullied or is being bullied,” Lawrence said. She identified four types of bullying: Verbal, physical, cyber and social bullying. The effects of bullying can lead to depression, dropping out of school, or even suicide.
“Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst America’s youth and girls between the ages of 10 and 14 are at the highest risk,” said Lawrence. She encouraged those who need to talk to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Jesse McCandlish, a 14-year old student, spoke about her experience being of bullied. She stated, “Words hurt, friends leave, I learned to smile and fake it.” McCandlish said she was teased in sixth grade by other girls. “They called me fat and ugly, and I started to believe it.” She added, “At night I would lie awake and think about how ugly I was.”
She said parties were the worst.
“I was never invited; out of 100 friends, no one cared, no one was my real friend.” McCandlish said, “I wanted the kind of friends you’re so close to that you stay up until midnight talking on the phone to.”
She said, “As time went by, things changed and so did I. As I got older, it finally happened. Now, I have real friends that are there for me and I learned to stop listening to the negative things that used to bother me.”
Other students told stories about being threatened by a bullies. One 12-year old said a bully threatened to beat her up everywhere she went. She couldn’t eat, concentrate in school, or sleep. “I was so afraid that I would wake up in the middle of the night and think that she would be in my room,” she said. The bully who threatened the victim was eventually expelled and was no longer a problem. The girl said she now stands up for others who are bullied.
Another victim, age 13, said, a bully threatened to beat her up and she decided to fight back.
“I was hit about 10 to 12 times but, at least I stood up for myself,” she said. She added that several students and two adults were bystanders, but never stepped in.
During the meeting, audience members were encouraged to share their own stories of bullying. Amy Cannon decided to share a story that happened to her when she was only 8 years old.
Page 2 of 3 - “My kids are still very young, but I want to be apart of my children’s journey as they go on through life,” she said. When Cannon was a little girl she explained she was pushed into a circle by her best friend and some young boys to fight her friend.
“I couldn’t believe it. I told them no but, they didn’t listen so I had to defend myself,” Cannon said. After about five minutes that seemed like a lifetime, Cannon said, surprisingly, she was doing well, until the boys stepped in.
“Finally, after being outnumbered I had an opportunity to escape and I ran.”
Unfortunately this incident would set the tone for many other incidents to come, said Cannon. Although her bruises healed long ago, she said, “That moment still plagues me, but more so as a concern as to what could happen to my children in their future.”
Kevin Cannon, a teacher, felt obligated to say something about what he felt is the crux of the issue. “Although I have never witnessed bullying in the classroom, to say it doesn’t happen would be untrue.”
He said he gave students throughout the school a kindness quilt assignment. The project addresses bullying and requires parents to work with their kids for the completion of the project. Cannon said out of 300 students, he only received five completed projects.
“The assignment addressed bullying and it is really important for parents to become more aware of the issue.” Cannon added, “Until parents get on board, my influence will not amount to anything compared to the bigger influence from other students and family. In order to really address the issue of bullying, there has to be more parental involvement.”
In the case of bystanders, 56 percent of students have witnessed bullying, Lawrence stated. This is more than half of all students.
Concerned Citizens for a Better Herkimer County Acting Chairman Robert Drumm admitted, as a bystander, it can be hard to figure out what to do. He said his little brother was being bullied and watching it happen was horrible. Bullying changed his brother’s life, he said.
“His grades fell, his interests changed, and he eventually had to switch schools to avoid being bullied,” Drumm stated. “In order to stop the bullying, it takes a proactive family endeavor. Parents have to encourage positive behavior.”
Drumm encouraged those who have been bullied to remember a quote by Glee star, Chris Colfer: “When people hurt you over and over, think of them like sand paper. They may scratch and hurt you a bit, but in the end, you end up polished and they end up useless.”
Drumm concluded his speech with a few positive reminders: “When you are bullied remember to always keep smiling, because bullies hate smiles, be brave, and be bold.”
Page 3 of 3 - The Dignity Act, signed by Governor David Patterson, will be in effective Sunday, July 1. The policy requires every school in New York state to have an anti-bullying policy in place. Failure to implement the policy could result in district fines.