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Congresswoman holds forum on bullying

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 6, 2013 - 5:11:45 AM

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WASHINGTON - Bullying makes the news when something dramatic happens—cyber bullying that leads to suicide or bullying in the NFL as alleged by Miami Dolphin football player Jonathan Martin. 

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Congresswoman Eleanor Norton Photo: Wikipedia

But the silent suffering of children and parents affected by bullying that can go unnoticed was brought to the light by Congresswoman Eleanor Norton.

Her Commission on Black Men and Boys convened and heard from parents, students and professionals Nov. 20. “We need to talk about this so we can do something about it,” said the D.C. Delegate to Congress.

The District of Columbia took a leadership role on bullying by enacting the Youth Bullying Prevention Act in 2012.

Mayor Vincent Gray explained that the act has three goals: “The eradication of bullying, primary prevention wherever youth are served and preventing at risk youth from being targeted.”

He spoke to a crowd assembled at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library. “We’d like to think that we’re in the forefront on this issue,” said the mayor.

For two years Christian Phillips-Gilbert was bullied in middle school. It affected his grades, his self-esteem and his ability to develop relationships. His days were filled with name calling and tears. He didn’t tell his parents immediately and the bullying seemed to go on forever.

But after telling his parents, the bullying continued.

“He was bullied for two years but we (his parents) were bullied as well. Every day I had to hear a story about what happened. We need funding put into schools to implement the Youth Bullying Prevention policy,” said his mother Sondra Phillips-Gilbert.

She shared how it hurt to discover her son didn’t tell her what he was going through and how little was done by the school.

Dr. Joseph Wright, senior vice president of the Children’s National Medical Center, has been a pediatrician for 22 years. “I’ve seen the results of bullying. It’s the tip of the youth violence problem. We need to tackle the problem before it gets to me,” he said.

“Most of us in this room grew up with a different lens on this (bullying) as normative behavior. We have a long way to go in terms of educating adults on this matter.”

According to the Department of Justice, by the third grade 75 percent of students have been exposed to bullying either as a victim, perpetrator or a witness. In another survey of middle and high school students, 66 percent of  victims believed school professionals responded poorly to bullying. 

The survey also found bullying takes place more often at school than on the way to and from school, male bullying declines after age 15 and female bullying after 14. According to student victims, 25 percent were bullied because of their race or religion.

“No one really wants to address the problem,” said Peaceoholics co-founder Ronald Moten, a member of the Commission on Black Men and Boys.  “Schools try to hide the data. A school is not successful if they have a lot of data of bullying.”

Congresswoman Norton established the Commission on Black Men and Boys, chaired by former D.C. police chief Issac Fulwood, to provide a thoughtful forum for discussion and problem-solving on some of the most persistent and controversial issues faced by Black men and youth as well as their families. 

The Commission’s well-attended hearings have given voice to some issues rarely discussed with public participation.

Commissioner Marvin Dickerson, representing the 100 Black Men of America, listened intently as children spoke of being bullied.

“A lot of adults have failed you in the system.  Around the country we need to revisit the issue of civics. They don’t teach it in school anymore.  If you leave bullying under the roofs of schools, some things will be hidden. What role does cyber bullying play in the way you interact?” he asked.

Suzanne Greenfield, director of Bullying Prevention, said bullying starts in the real world and by fifth grade moves to cyberspace.

“Youth may be in school for six hours but they’re always connected,” she said.

What’s the answer for children that are bullied?

“When kids have caring adults around, then they’re better able to handle a crisis,” said Commissioner Chester Marshal, author of Black Man Heal. “There’s a serious relationship between bullying and long term poor outcomes for adults.”

Ms. Greenfield agreed. “The number one thing that makes a difference in a child’s life is a trusted adult that listens. There’s great need for caring adults that listen,” she said.

For Christian life changed when he confided in a counselor. “Now I have a bunch of confidence and things are better,” he said.

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