April 23, 2018
On Friday, April 13, Bully Free Forever Club (BFF) held their annual assembly for the Atholton student body. Speakers, videos, a dance, a skit, two raps, and a song conveyed their theme that everyone’s words matter, and that everyday actions can make a difference.
The assembly is part of a larger movement that redefines bullying. The BFF assembly discussed this idea by promoting a holistic and intersectional view of bullying, asserting that words can be even more harmful than physical abuse.
“In elementary and middle school, we watch all those guidance videos about the big kid stealing your lunch money and shoving you in a locker, and that’s what we associate with bullying,” said sophomore Bella Saunders, who attended the assembly. She added that islamophobic, homophobic, racist, or otherwise degrading comments are definitely bullying, even though they may not be what people automatically associate with it.
Layanne Khaskia, a speaker at the assembly and a member of BFF, expanded on this idea. “I’ve been called a terrorist jokingly so many times, and it crushes me every time,” she said, adding that she hopes after hearing her speech people “realize that hate speech and words of harassment are not jokes.”
Hurtful words like these can have devastating consequences, and this point was highlighted by Ms. McComas, the keynote speaker at the assembly. Her daughter, Grace McComas, committed suicide after enduring cyber bullying and drug assisted sexual assault. “Words used as weapons, in person, and online loomed over Grace’s demise,” Ms. McComas said at the assembly. “Before this happens to another family, we must understand the power that words can have. The power to uplift someone, but also the power to maim and damage,” she said. “You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. So please, choose to be kind.”
Through her grief, Ms. McComas worked to make sure that no other children go through what her daughter Grace did. The result is Grace’s Law, passed in October 2013, which makes cyberbullying a criminal offense in Maryland. (To read more, look at page 33 of the textual introduction in your agenda book.)
Moreover, staff members performed a skit that emphasized the power of words. The skit highlighted a student who was having a bad day because his friends were bullying him, causing his mood and actions to become drastically more negative and even violent as the day went on. Even though several of his peers, teachers, and family members talked kindly to him later in the day, the character lashed out at them, in effect becoming a bully himself. It ended with Mr. Piche and Mr. Lidard reading a poem about how a person’s attitude can make the difference between a bad day and a good day. The skit illuminated both the power of words and the power of attitude, and how both of those things can impact others and oneself.
The Bully Free Forever Assembly engaged the entire school in learning a simple yet powerful message. As Ms. McComas said, “words do matter.” Let’s choose them wisely.