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Lawyer's crusade against bullying lights a match at Oaklands Elementary [Commentary]

BullyingJustice SystemRutgers University

Bullying has been around since the dawn of man. It's knit into our genes. Just look at cordial sorts like Mike Rice, the former men's basketball coach at Rutgers University. The damning video of him kicking, pushing and verbally abusing players went viral on the Internet.

When you're an adult, the word bullying takes on more dignified terminology, such as "that fella has anger management issues." 

But a bully by any other name — or age or station — is still a bully.

Greg Parker is convinced that if you begin erasing this form of bad behavior during childhood, it will pay rich dividends in the future. So the lawyer and Laurel resident has assembled a nonprofit called the Brighter Future Anti-Bullying Foundation. His plan: to become more interconnected with lawmakers at all levels, school boards, principals, PTAs and kids. Here's how his color-splashed website lays it out: "Ensuring kids can go to school, learn and reach their full potential without fear of intimidation from  bullying."    

In March, Parker, 44, served up a program at Oaklands Elementary School. First thing in the morning, quietly and orderly, students filed into the South Laurel school cafeteria to the tune of "Rockin' Robin" by the Jackson Five.

"We're going to talk about things we should do and shouldn't do," affirmed Principal Audrey Briscoe, as her charges settled in. Before the show, Briscoe said she wanted her children "to learn to respect one another, know how to treat each other," and to not give into the notion that "to be cool, you have to be bad."

Parker, with the smooth physicality of a game-show host, began pumping up the crowd.

"How many of you can tell me what bullying is?" he asked. "We've got a lot of hands!"

The replies came back fast and furiously, ranging from "being mean" to "when somebody pushes you," to "if you mess with somebody." Parker had tapped into a deep spring of emotionalism. He had reached his audience, kids and grown-ups.

"How does bullying make you feel?" he pressed.

"Sad and bad" were common refrains.

The room was on fire; Parker struck the match.

In a strong and authoritative timbre, Parker advised the kids that if they were bullied "walk away and tell your teacher." That was greeted with zesty applause.

Then this: "Would you help bullies?"

"Nooooo."

Parker's crusade has its roots in inner-city Washington.

"I grew up in some of the poorest parts" of the nation's capital, he recalled. "Bullying has always been an important issue to me because there were many kids just like me who were bullied but had no support and nowhere to turn for help."

His ticket out, he said, was education. Not everyone in the neighborhood was so lucky. Victims of bullying, he said — potential doctors, lawyers and reporters — "turned to destructive measures or withdrew from society completely."

The numbers are chilling. Parker said 1 in 7 students is either a bully or a victim. And the National Education Association, he noted, reports some 160,000 kids miss school every day based on fear of being intimidated or attacked by their peers.

Parker labeled the event a success: "I was pleased to see the smiles on the kids' faces."

Along with his other forms of outreach, Parker hosts an Internet radio show. A recent show discussed the issue of a young teen who was raped and hung herself because of bullying, he said.

"These preventable stories are why I do what I do," Parker said. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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