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Column: We all need to stand up and help in fight against bullying

By Calvin Ball, Philosopherpoet2@yahoo.com

4:03 PM EDT, May 14, 2012

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While I am a believer in  Martin Luther King Jr.'s truism, "The quality, not the longevity, of one's life is what is important," it still saddens me deeply at the loss of life, particularly a life that has had so little time on this earth.

On May 5, I was honored to work with Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens on a "A Ray of Hope," which was a free, pro-kindness, anti-bullying, teen suicide outreach event. This event was held at Howard High School and 200 to 300 students, parents and school administrators were present. My personal objective was twofold.

Seeing our young people becoming victims of suicide — yes, I do believe that any time a soul is so tortured that suicide seems to be the answer, the person is a victim — I wanted to honor their memories and let grieving families know we stand together as a community. Losing a young person to suicide because of bullying impacts the family, the neighborhood and the entire community. We are all wounded by such a loss.

Additionally, I wanted us to provide resources to young people and families currently struggling with bullying. We had a moderator with five expert panelists, including a representative from our school system, a high school senior, a social worker, and two experts on suicide prevention. In addition, there were 10 diverse exhibitors with tables of invaluable information.

I thought that having our young people, families, school officials and resources in one place would help facilitate empowering students and families.

However, during those difficult two hours I took away much more. That critical conversation stirred numerous and turbulent emotions within me and left me feeling sad, angry, hopeful, terrified and overwhelmed, just to name a few.

My heart went out to everyone grieving for loss as well as every young person and family currently struggling with bullying. Behind the tears, sometimes shaky voices, and tales of terror or frustration conveyed by the courageous few who stepped into the light were some real questions that must be answered.

What now? How can things get better? Most importantly how can we make things better?

Processes: There are antiquated and even potentially harmful systems in place for victims. With social networking and the world getting flatter, the world of bullying is much different than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. Every entity involved needs to evaluate our processes and tools to ensure that we help and protect the victims, particularly in this digital age.

Education/Empowerment: A lot of good people who witness bullying do not know how or what to do or even the potential ramifications of their silence. This great silent majority needs to be given a voice and the skills to be the positive change agents we want them to be and we know they can be.

Collaboration: Finally and most importantly, no one person or entity can eradicate bullying alone. We cannot just blame the schools, or the police, or politicians, or parents. We all need to step up and work together to foster a safe environment in which we can grow our future.

While I do want all of our children to have long lives, I'm willing to stand up and do something to help them have an excellent quality of life. Will you stand with me? What will you do this month, this week, today to help eradicate bullying?

Calvin Ball is a County Council member from Columbia.