Shaelene Lafosse and Joe Townsend organized the event after Lafosse came up with the idea last Wednesday. Word spread thanks to social media and it was standing room only Monday night.
Concerned parents, adults without kids as well as friends and family members of 13-year-old Madison Wilson, who took her own life on June 13, were there to hear different speakers talk about mental health, bullying and programs available to help.
“I am happy that people are here in the community, rallying together and helping get the message out that bullying isn’t right which is the message that me and my family wanted to get out there,” says Chris Royal, Wilson’s father who at times could be seen crying.
“It’s starting slowly but it will get out there.”
Lafosse shared voice recordings of parents sharing their stories of the bullying their children had gone through. In one, a mother told how her son was invited into a video message chat through social media only to have the other members say horrific things to him, including a chant of “we want to kill” the boy.
The issue of cyberbullying was a strong theme through many of the speakers who appealed to parents to get the passwords for their children’s social media outlets and devices and to check them regularly.
Paul Ratchford, a police officer and head of the Clifford Street Youth Center in North Sydney, brought up the issue of children having cell phones at too young an age and suggested parents rethink doing that.
Dr. Stan Kutcher, a mental health expert specializing in child and adolescents, reminded the audience that we have the power to control these new technologies.
“I want to remind you, technologies are not in charge of us,” he says. “We are in charge of our technologies.”
Kutcher, who was brought in by the premier and his government to help the community deal with the recent suicides and to assess the issues surrounding them, made it very clear the problem will only be solved once we band together as a community.
“When I care for you and you care for me… good things happen,” he says.
“That realization has to be lived. That realization has to be instilled in all of our institutions.”
The minister who presided over the funeral service for Wilson also spoke. Reverend Julio Martin was passionate, at times seeming angry, when he gave his speech about the power of words and the need of the government to give more power to teachers when it comes to reprimanding those who bully.
“Words can hurt. Words can destroy. Words can kill. Words can murder,” he says.
Shaking his fist in the air he continues: “I never again want to preside over the funeral of a 13-year old who was killed by words.”
Kutcher also spoke of the importance of words when it comes to speaking about suicide.
“We can talk about suicide in a way that supports our vulnerable young people or we can do that in a way that doesn’t,” he points out.
“So I want you to ask yourselves, what am I doing in this conversation that is likely to be more helpful than harmful? What am I doing that will be more likely to decrease the number of young people who die by suicide?”
Kutcher stresses the problem will only be solved if the community stays united.
“I ask each one of you… when you leave here tonight, to go out and say to two people, I am here for you and if you need my help I will tell you I am here for you,” he says.
Lafosse repeated that sentiment in her closing statements.
“Remember you are not alone. There is always somebody there who will listen.”
Royal agrees, saying he feels proud of the support he is getting from the community, which was reflected in the turn out for the meeting.
“Bullying is not right. It affects so many people. More people than you even realize.”
Programs offered to help those being bullied:
Caper Base: http://www.caperbase.com/
Kids Help Phone: 800-668-6868
Mental Health Crisis Line: 888-429-8167
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