Communities Against Bullying (CAB) held their first meeting at the Ripley Library on Monday, May 6.
Over 80 people attended the gathering from educators and board members to political leaders, circuit court judges, therapists, Guardians of the Children, and concerned citizens.
The event organizer, Kimberly Morris, began the meeting by sharing a photo of her son Jordan as a baby. She recalled a time when her “baby” came home from middle school with his eyes swollen and blood running from of his nose.
“I remember telling him to get in the car, we’re going to the school,” Morris said. “I can’t remember a lot, I’m sure everyone present there that day could tell you every word I said, but as a mother, it was my mother’s heart that was broken.”
As a mother, Morris was upset that someone could have done such cruel things to her baby. She admits she should have stood up sooner, but whether she was afraid or not sure what to do, Morris says it is on her heart to finally take a stand.
“Too many mothers are mourning the loss of their babies due to bullying,” Morris said. “It’s time that we as a community do something about it. It’s time to protect our babies and do right by them.”
Morris introduced her son Jordan who described the bullying he experienced as a child.
“I was bullied almost everyday,” Jordan Morris said. “In sixth grade three people jumped me, busted an eye vessel, hurt my nose, made it bleed, pulled my hoodie over my head, and broke my glasses on my face.”
That was the beginning of his physical bullying. Morris said he would fight back, but he never started the fights.
“Bullying made me do dumb, stupid things I can never come back from,” Morris said.
He went through severe anxiety and depression. Morris himself turned into a bully and got into things that he “wish had never happened.”
Morris feels that the bullying would decrease if the parents of the bullies are made aware of their actions. He thinks that there should be harsher punishments for bullies and their parents, but he also understands that bullies are bullies for a reason and those reasons need addressed.
“As much as I wish the bullying wouldn’t have happened, it just made me stronger in a better way,” Morris said. “You have to push through it and move past the bullying.”
Following Jordan Morris was Adam Gandee who is a father, a social worker, and an upcoming author. He lived across the street from the Morris family when the bullying took place.
“When this happened to Jordan, it hit me hard,” Gandee said.
Working in Child Protective Services for 15 years, Gandee has seen many different cases of child abuse and feels there’s nothing worse than seeing a child get bullied.
Gandee’s own son has experienced bullying and he knows how difficult it can be on a child and their parents. He mentioned the Guardians of the Children group was there for his son and commended them for always being there to provide support to children in need. Gandee agrees the time to take a stand is now.
Licensed therapist Vicki Stroud took the floor to share some statistics with the group.
“Bullying is a serious threat to our youth today,” Stroud said. “It effects 20 percent of high school students and 25 percent of middle school age students. Most report bullying at least once a week.”
Stroud noted that cyber-bullying is on the rise and it effects 16 percent of the high school population.
She listed the short-term and long-term effects on both the student and the bully.
“Hurt people, hurt people,” Stroud said.
According to Stroud, most bullies are doing so because of underlying issues whether it be family trauma, drug related abuse, or mental health issues.
“Young people experience the bullying and often adults don’t see it,” Said Stroud. “Often the adults respond not proactively because they do not know what to do or where to turn.”
She feels issues start in the home and spread through the community. Stroud wants parents to be aware of what their children are doing, what they are looking at on social media, who they are talking to, and the types of groups they are hanging around.
“Bullying stops us from who we want to be and stops us from expressing ourselves freely,” Stroud said. “Encourage your kids to say something if they are bullied or to speak up against bullying.”
West Virginia House of Delegates (District 19) representative Josh Higginbotham discussed things they have done at the state level to help with the bullying issues.
“We need to take a step back and look at the big issue, what’s the cause or the root problem?” Higginbotham said. “Child abuse, drug addiction, crime, that’s where the cause is and usually these issues start at home.”
Higginbotham feels if there is abuse at home, the kids will act out in school. He feels the parents need to focus more on their children and meeting their needs to help keep them focused at school.
Higginbotham discussed two bills they are currently working on in the House of Delegates regarding bullying. The first one mentioned was Grace’s Law which pertains to a cyber-bullying case that ended with a teen named Grace, committing suicide. This bill would make it a misdemeanor to repeatedly harass someone by using an electronic device.
The second bill is in response to an abuse case Berkeley County pertaining to a classroom. It would require cameras to be placed in special needs classrooms. Higginbotham feels this would increase safety for both teachers and students.
School Resource Officer Tom Speece described his position as a Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) at Ravenswood High School. He deals with different issues everyday from bullying, harassment, phone usage issues, and more.
Speece feels parents need to be more involved with their children and what they are doing. He encourages parents to check their children’s phones and electronic devices to know what they are looking at and what they are doing online.
“Sit down with your kids and talk to them in the evening, ask them how their day was,” Speece said. “You will be amazed what you learn from them.”
Ravenswood has implemented a temporary conflict resolution group consisting of Speece, faculty, and students who get together to discuss important issues and how to handle certain situations.
Ravenswood High School students Skylar Varney and Annie Hunt shared some of their experiences as part of the Because Ravenswood Always Values Everyone (BRAVE) discussion group. They feel it benefits everyone involved by giving them an opportunity to express themselves and share their stories.
Ravenswood Mayor Josh Miller spoke about his experience with bullying as he was growing up. Miller stated he dealt with his emotions from being bullied by lifting weights and running. He believes children need to find a passion or a way to release the emotions of being bullied.
Growing up Miller said he was taught to treat the CEO with the same respect he would treat the janitor. He strongly feels bullying comes from hate.
“Hate is a learned behavior and when you stop it, you can start making a difference in the bullying world,” Miller said.
Ripley City Chief of Police Brad Anderson believes “kids will help other kids.”
“I can tell my kids something over and over until I’m blue in the face and it won’t do any good, but if they hear the same thing from one of their peers, it sticks,” Anderson said.
He wants to see more teenage students attend meetings and get involved to learn ways they can help stop the bullying epidemic.
Carl Archer, a current high school student, shared his bullying experiences. Archer noted bullying in relationships is another cause for alarm.
A wide variety of concerns were expressed by all those who attended. The next step is to take action and develop a plan.
Morris believes we as a community can help lessen the bullying burden on our children by working together to make a difference. A committee will be formed and additional meetings will be scheduled.
“I believe we are on the right track,” Morris said.
For information on future meetings, contact Morris on Facebook under Kimberly Ann or call 304-932-5522.