It was a night of difficult stories, hope and misty eyes from some of Dearborn’s normally stoic elected officials.
The Anti-Bullying Extravaganza was the kickoff of the first-ever organized effort by the city and schools to curb bullying inside and out of the classroom. The event took place Wednesday at the . The program brought together parents, students, educators, business people, law enforcement personnel and city officials to learn more about the anti-bullying plan.
The event was emceed by WXYX-Channel 7 reporter Anu Prakash, who introduced several familiar faces who spoke about the importance of preventing bullying, and even shared personal stories.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like to go to school every day with the fear of bullying or intimidation,” said Dearborn Board of Education President James Schoolmaster. “When I was a kid, the bully was a kid who took your cookies ... he could be found on the school playground.”
But all of that’s changed today, with technology making it possible for bullies to access victims 24-7, Schoolmaster added.
“That’s why we made this a priority,” he said.
Mayor Jack O’Reilly said that bullying has been a problem for a long time, but that doesn’t mean the city and schools can’t try to change the hearts and minds of potential bullies, and the people who allow them to wreak havoc on others.
“We’re not (implementing anti-bullying practices) because it’s something that’s not happening in other places,” said O’Reilly, who said he was often picked on at school because he was bigger than other kids.
"If you have three out of 100 kids that are so affected (by bullying) that it affects the rest of their lives, then we’re all guilty,” he said. “What we can do is create a community where everyone feels good about themselves.”
O’Reilly also presented Supt. Brian Whiston with a proclamation, and named Sept. 14 Dearborn’s official Anti-Bullying Day.
Whiston said schools and city officials, as well as parents and teachers, began working on an anti-bullying program a year ago.
“It was the right thing to do,” he said.
The program requires each school to have anti-bullying events, as well as track incidents of bullying inside and outside the classroom. The data collected will give administrators a better idea of what is happening, where hot spots may be, and what corrective action is needed. Additionally, the program will make common resources available to all educators.
Third Circuit Court Judge Kathleen McCarthy, the keynote speaker for the event, said bullying had touched her personally, and that she can still remember walking unusual routes home after school to avoid a group of girls who targeted her.
“I don’t care how tough you are–five girls against one isn’t a fair fight,” she said. But, she found the will to stand up for herself, and the bullying stopped.
McCarthy also said she learned about bullying at home, when she was forced to cope with an abusive father who sometimes frightened her. As an adult, she explained, she learned her father likely felt inadequate, which led to bullying in her household.
Event attendees were shown three videos–one based on the song, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” which was created by former Dearborn student Tawney Fay. The second was the Parent-Teacher Association’s Reflection Video, by student Sean Peacock, and the third was the Anti-Bullying Public Service Announcement, which was created under the supervision of art teacher Annette Alexander-Frank.
Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak also presented $20,000 in county grant funds to help schools fund activities that discourage bullying.
The grant funds came from dollars set aside by Wayne County to fund a Prevention Action Services System, which provides grants for programs that help young people avoid the juvenile justice system. Funding for the grant program was approved by the commission last month.
Woronchak said prior to the event that bullying may start out small, but can have life-altering consequences.
“It’s not acceptable behavior,” he said. “It’s not the kind of behavior you wants kids to be taking forward into their adult lives.”
Additionally, a poster contest was announced to publicize anti-bullying efforts. The grand prizewinner will see their poster displayed in school and city facilities, as well as local businesses. State Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn) also made provisions to display a large reproduction of the poster in Lansing at the state Capitol.
All submissions must be received by Student Services Program Specialist Jacqui Rivait by Oct. 28.