A few weeks back, my son witnessed a friend seriously and physically mistreated because he was ethnically different than his perpetrators. The boy perpetrators were thought to be friends. They played and will again play football together. They hang out together. The boy perpetrators thought they were being funny. And they appear to be genuinely sorry. But the hurt they already caused has made its mark. Not in a suicide way but also not so unlike fifteen-year-old Jadin Bell, who did attempt suicide by hanging himself from an elementary school playground structure, in Oregon.
This is not only an Oregon issue or a school issue. This is a human issue that starts at home. Losing a child is unacceptable. Losing a child to hopelessness and bullying is worse than unacceptable, it was avoidable. And make no mistake. Jadin Bell is your son and my son. He is your daughter and my daughter. He is every child who ever felt lonely and ostracized due to differences. He is you and me. And he needed everyone, anyone, someone to help.
I make a promise to the children and the parents of the children who attend my children’s schools. I promise to talk with my children about hard issues before I HAVE to talk with my children about hard issues. I promise to discuss and model diversity and tolerance in my home because my school may or may not be hitting the awarenesses of all students and schools have many, many children and their needs to meet. And most importantly, it is MY responsibility as a mother. I promise to do my best to be aware of media influences and to form discussions and teachable moments in response to these influences, rather than curtailing to the point of no discussion. I promise to model leadership of diversity awareness for my children. I promise to listen and support school disciplines when warranted and necessary. I promise to teach my children skills, empathy and awareness of others and their needs, to recognize if they irresponsibly or accidentally hurt someone and to strive toward making amends. And ask for help in doing so. I promise my children are aware that any bullyish behavior on their parts will swiftly put them in Mom Diversity Boot Camp, complete with loss of every single privilege they hold dear. I make these promises to my children and the children in their schools and the parents of the children in their schools. I promise to keep and advocate a No Bullies in My Home standard.
I know there are so many fantastic parents who are raising exceptionally talented and beautiful kids. I just need a little of that glow now. I need to hear those voices, but not just the big media, this is big news voices. I need to hear the moms and dads from their places of homes and families. Hurt kids, failed kids like Jadin Bell, break my heart and I can’t help but somehow feel responsible. Am I not an adult? Do I not have the ability to do more? How would I feel if my children suffered the same prejudices and bullying? I’ll admit to being angry. I’m angry that Jadin Bell hung himself on an elementary school playground. And all I have are words, which is good because if I had a political office, I would tell NRA extremists and bigots to go fuck themselves. That makes me not so electable, I’m told. What I do know is that I, like every other parent, have the opportunity every day to teach a better way to those who mean most. And my children can take what they’ve learned, exact change in their social circles, if they are brave and true. I believe they are. Brave and true. And this is a powerful force. It can save lives. It can nurture a better future.
Rae Bryant’s short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her stories have appeared or are soon forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, BLIP Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications and have been nominated for the Pen/Hemingway, Pen Emerging Writers, and Pushcart awards. She writes essays and reviews for such places as New York Journal of Books, Puerto del Sol, The Nervous Breakdown, Portland Book Review and Beatrice.com. She is the 2012 Patasola New York City Summer Writing Resident and has received fellowships from the VCCA and The Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Masters in Writing, teaches multimedia and creative writing, and is editor in chief of the literary and arts journal, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review.