Last Wed. 30 middle school students at Capital Christian Center in Sacramento assembled for a bully prevention training called WAVE - a peer abuse prevention strategy for schools offered by B.R.A.V.E. Society, a Carmichael non-profit dedicated to bully prevention. The objective of the program is to quell the escalation of bullying via texting and social media by giving students some practical exercises that help them to experience the difference every individual makes for a peaceful or hostile community, on and off line.
In an effort to turn “bystanders” (who witness bullying but say and do nothing), into “upstanders” (who speak up and do something to stop bullying), B.R.A.V.E. Society Program Director, Dr. Shadi Barfjani, developed the WAVE training with B.R.A.V.E. Society Founder, Lisa Ford Berry.
“You would not know by looking at me, that I have been abused, and came from a society that does not protect women from abuse,” Barfjani said. “Everybody has a story. Everybody has suffered some form of difficulty or abuse. So you never know when one of those moments when you see someone alone and troubled, that one act of kindness even if it is just a simple ‘Hi’, could make all the difference for that one individual in that one moment.”
The WAVE program was facilitated by Emily and Johnny Bansuelo, CCC youth leaders, who started by organizing the students into four “groups of influence” which then did a number of exercises that brought to light the group dynamics that can make it difficult for every individual to fully participate. And then there was discussion about what it felt like for the individuals who were marginalized and why it was allowed to happen.
Chris Williams is a Bible instructor at CCC who served as one of the small group facilitators. “I hope that the students come away today with an understanding that just because the harassment or isolation is not happening to them, it is important to take action even if they don’t know the person being targeted,” he said.
B.R.A.V.E. Society founder Ford Berry, wrapped up the session. On Sept. 15, 2008, her son Michael killed himself when the relentless, cyber-powered bullying about a rumor that he was gay consumed him. As Ford Berry told her son’s story of being completely abandoned by a school campus, it was revealed that he was an outstanding student, well-liked and very committed to his Christian faith.
“His faith, his commitment to chastity for marriage, was used against him,” Ford Berry said.”Someone who sat behind him in one of his classes thought it would be funny to start a rumor that he was gay.”
According to Ford Berry it wasn’t until after his death that she and his Dad learned what was happening; citing a letter he left them, he was too humiliated to bring it to their attention for help. “The things that were said about him on his MySpace page and texted on his phone were horrendous,” she said. Ford Berry also told the students that her son did ask for help. He pleaded with his friends and sought help from the school administration to no avail.
This Sunday will be the fifth anniversary of his death and his 22nd birthday.
“He was left alone, visibly troubled. No one on the school campus reached out or responded to his despair,” she said. “We assign a lot of social value to how many friends we have. And the bystander effect is one of the big reasons why this type of targeting individuals is allowed to happen. We need to be inclusive, not exclusive. And words do matter. Do the right thing even if it makes you uncomfortable. Say something, do something.”
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- B.R.A.V.E. Society WAVE
- Capital Christian Center
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