In the midst of a rash of widely publicized suicides by bullied teens, many of them gay and lesbian, Acadiana Open Channel and The Family Tree are joining forces to combat bullying through a series of public service announcements, a website, and through social media. The Bullying Stops With Me campaign is scheduled to launch within the next two weeks, beginning with PSAs on AOC and on a YouTube channel of the same name. A website, BullyStopsWithMe.com, is up (though still under construction), and the group also has a Facebook page.
On Tuesday, District 4 City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, his brother Gerald, who is Lafayette’s director of parks and recreation, and newly elected District 4 school board representative Tehmi Chassion filmed PSAs for the project. Each was bullied during adolescence.
“They all have stories that they want to tell of being bullied — Tehmi Chassion especially. He’s just basically out of college; his are rather fresh,” says project coordinator Stephen Handwerk, AOC’s board president. Handwerk’s company, Affordable Consulting, also works with Family Tree.
“Since I work with both AOC and the Family Tree, I thought they could play integral roles, if they talk with each other and figure out a program,” Handwerk says. “And that’s how we kind of came together, the three of us, not only with the emergency help — the crisis hotline and case managers — but from the community conversation side with AOC; both of these guys being uniquely suited, that’s the type of work they already do: parenting courses as well as counseling. I thought it would be the perfect match.”
Handwerk says he was motivated to begin the campaign after reading of the recent suicides across the country, as well as a brutal case of bullying in our own backyard at Youngsville Middle School.
“I think now in the past 30 days, if the media report was correct, we’ve had 16 suicides, teenagers committing suicide, and all directly related to bullying,” Handwerk says.
When the Bully Stops With Me website is operational, it will serve as resource center for families dealing with bullying, pointing them to counseling services and a 24/7 hotline. The Family Tree will also compile statistics on bullying in the area, produce reports and make recommendations to schools, and AOC will continue producing long- and short-form videos addressing the issue.
Adds Handwerk: “‘We’ve got to do something locally here before our kids feel that there’s no other choice but to take their own lives.”
The video below is from the Tuesday, Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting, during which District 9 Councilman Joel Burns delivers a moving plea for his community to aggressively address bullying.