One of the few positive things to come from tragedy is talk.
We talk about the pain we feel, about what we lost, what we miss. We talk about what we remember, what we want to forget, what we should have done, what nobody could do, what everybody must do.
When a young person dies, especially at his or her own hands, we need to talk.
When bullying leads to that suicide, we need to talk.
The school year is fast approaching. So let’s talk.
After my column this week on bullying and suicide, many of you talked about your own experiences with being bullied as children and even today. Some of you talked about what you are doing to silence the vicious, thoughtless words of vicious, thoughtless people.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Don Schrader – Albuquerque’s own inimitable, ubiquitous, urine-drinking, peace-loving, nearly naked guy – revealed that he has been the target of bullying for years. But last Sunday as he took his usual walk along Central, he experienced the most violent attack he’s had since moving to Albuquerque 43 years ago.
Two young men near Girard SE accosted him, demanded he pay $5 to pass, then tossed him to the ground when he gently refused, he said.
He responded in a typical Schrader way, espousing as he does that war, even a personal one, is not the answer.
“I didn’t look back, I didn’t curse,” he said. “I refused to fight. My thinking was that showing them strength through peace could help change them. It’s possible.”
Not everybody, especially those much younger than Schrader, has the temerity yet to stand up, peaceably or otherwise, to such bullies – at least not on his own.
But there is strength in numbers, and several of you are uniting to create a movement in your communities and schools to challenge the scourge of bullying and the sadness of suicide.
Thailen McNary, 13, plans on proposing an anti-bullying club at Jefferson Middle School once school begins next week, and you’ll know these courageous kids by the cool bracelets they will wear made of parachute cord and a lot of heart.
Thailen’s mother, Amy Miller [this name has been corrected], said her son’s efforts came as the result of his own horrific experience last year with school bullies, who taunted him for his intelligence, a birth defect and his being adopted.
Thanks to family support, counseling and a YMCA leadership course this summer, Thailen turned his despair into determination to make things better.
“He was empowered,” his mother said.
Thailen, who will be in eighth grade this year, wrote a lengthy proposal for the anti-bullying club. He approached his principal at registration with the idea. He made the bracelets he found on YouTube. And he reached out to fellow classmates on social media to see whether anybody else at Jefferson wanted to join his anti-bullying campaign.
Within hours, some 60 kids had signed up.
“That shows how much need there is for something like this,” his mother said. “It showed him he is not alone.”
Thailen was also inspired by the story of Carlos Vigil, a 17-year-old from Los Lunas who fought against bullying but ultimately lost last month.
But Vigil’s message lives on.
A week before he took his life last month, Vigil spoke at a YMCA-sponsored youth conference in North Carolina and presented a proposed anti-bullying policy for schools. His proposal includes stricter penalties for bullying similar to those imposed for assault, school-based workshops for young students on how to properly respond to bullying and trained mediators to help students resolve their problems.
His grandmother, Dolores Marquez, is urging legislators, school officials and others to carry on the fight her grandson championed.
One of those “others” is Richard White, a 29-year-old business graduate from the University of New Mexico who has organized the first anti-bullying rally to honor Vigil and to keep his fight going. The rally is Saturday morning in Belen. White hopes to hold similar events across the state.
“I’ve been wanting to do this since I was in middle school,” he said. “But when I saw Carlos’ mom and dad and how hard it was for them to bury him, that’s when things became clear. That’s when I knew that things have just got to change.”
White said he has also endured bullying for much of his life for being too fat or too skinny, for his braces or his brains, for being in band or for being gay.
“Carlos was me when I was his age,” he said. “I know the struggles he was going through. I know that pain, that feeling that suicide is the only way to stop the pain.”
White said he has been in close contact with Vigil’s family in creating this movement, the name of which will be announced at Saturday’s rally. Marquez, Vigil’s grandmother, will be there to speak to the crowd.
“This movement is really taking off,” he said. “It’s exciting. Carlos may have lost the battle. But we won’t.”
At Valley High School in Albuquerque, one of the two high schools Vigil had attended, bright yellow anti-bullying signs bear his image. The signs, found around campus, on social media pages and the school’s Web page, include the words “Stop Bullying” and “Stay VIGILant.”
Keep talking, New Mexico. Perhaps one day, we’ll be louder than the bullies.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.