Archive - Mar 31, 2011

Rosa Parks, Logan West, Alye Pollack and Monique McClain

On June 6, 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered his famous Ripple of Hope speech in Cape Town, South Africa. The famous line from that speech is:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

A decade earlier, Rosa Parks sat down for an ideal; her ripple of hope joining with others to bring about the civil rights movement. Yet neither Robert nor Rosa have ended oppression. It still exists in many forms today.

One form of oppression in our country today is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a disease rampant in our country. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a report, The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families which describes Cyberbulling as “the most common online risk for all teens” and “is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide.”

Here in Connecticut, it is also a concern of the State Legislature as they consider SB 1138, An Act Concerning The Strengthening of School Bullying Laws. Recent news reports have asked whether bullying has played a role in a shooting in West Hartford and a runaway in Orange. It is a concern in schools across our state, and a new group of heroines are addressing the issue in new ways.

Logan West, named Connecticut's Outstanding Teen of 2010 has been going around the state speaking at different schools as part of her program, “Bully Proof: Empowering Children Today to Prevent Bullying Tomorrow.”

Alye Pollack posted a powerful video about bullying on YouTube. It has already been viewed over 40,000 times and liked by nearly 2,000 people.

Monique McClain received a message on her MySpace page which included,

“I fucking hate yhu with all my heart. Yhur a bitch & I just wanna like ughh. Yhur a fucking snitch &+I just wanna like beat you the fuck up."

She has testified in front of the Board of Education in her town about the bullying and is fighting to get a safe education. These young women are the Rosa Parks, spreading ripples of hope in the battle against cyberbulling.

Yet the schools that are supposed to be providing safe educational environments seem to be a major contributor to the problem. The Middletown school district appears intent on spending large amounts of taxpayer money to lawyers to defend their inaction, instead of doing their job in seeking to provide a safe educational environment.

About Westport, where Alye is from, a blogger from the Hartford Courant comments,

I have to make just one editorial aside about School Superintendent Elliott Landon's comment that he was "surprised" about learning of Pollack's plight. And then adding the tried-and-true pat statement... "I don't know why it was not brought to school officials' attention sooner." 

My bet is some adult at the school had some degree of knowledge that Pollack was being harassed. And my question to Landon and any other "school official" (including those quoted from West Hartford's Conard High following the off-school grounds shooting) who are "so surprised" when something like this surfaces, when was the last time you got out of your chair and walked the hallways of your schools?

In Southington, where Logan is from, she was told to become “friends” with the people bullying her. The Hartford Courant reports

Without school support, the bullying continued, until it finally escalated to the point where West's bullies threw chewed-up food at her during lunch. West threw rice back. The main bully then punched her in the face, and they were both suspended for two days.

The Southington schools failed in their attempt to deal with bullying just as the Middletown schools are currently failing. However, Logan has survived and grown. As she speaks to different students, she has them do an exercise.

For one exercise, West puts a paper doll named Lizzy at the front of the classroom and gets volunteers to come up and say something mean to her. After they insult Lizzy, they tear off a piece of her body. Then West tells them that Lizzy is "torn to pieces" and asks them to apologize for what they said. As they apologize, they also help tape Lizzy back together.

"In the end, she's not nearly the same. I try to explain to them that when you say something mean to someone, their arm may not fall off, but inside, a piece of them is being torn," says West. "Even when you apologize, you'll never be 100 percent put back. They need to understand that their words really do have an effect on people."

It is a striking example, but there is something that isn’t mentioned. The tape, while never fully repairing the damage, actually makes the paper doll stronger. Logan is stronger. I don’t think she, Alye or Monique ever wanted to become the heroine’s of a movement to stop bullying, but that is the opportunity for each of them. The Courant article ends off with this quote from Logan:

"I know I'm only one person. At the time, I was 14. I couldn't do much. But it only took me to tell somebody else who told somebody else," West says. "As a nation, as a community, we need to understand the effects of bullying, make sure that our youth don't have to go through that. If you can prevent it, do it."

One person reaching out to another; more ripples of hope. On April 26th, the Connecticut Commission on Human rights and Opportunities is sponsoring “Kids’ Speak” as an opportunity for students across the state to come together and discuss topics related to civil and human rights. One of the issues to be addressed is bullying. I hope Logan, Alye and Monique will carry the spirit of Rosa Parks with them to this event and that those who support the mighty walls of oppression through their inaction and stonewalling will realize the foolish futility of the efforts.