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June 11, 2014

Assembly focuses on anti-bullying

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

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Assembly focuses on anti-bullying
Youth crisis counselor and anti-bullying speaker Brooks Gibbs, right, role plays a scenario with Chatterton Middle School eighth-grader Taiyana Oldham, 14, in which he challenges her to get under his skin during the assembly May 23.

WARREN — Plain and simple, a bully is a jerk, according to Brooks Gibbs, youth crisis councelor and anti-bullying speaker.

He visited Chatterton Middle School in Fitzgerald Public Schools May 23.

“Bullies need a victim to bully. If they can extract that negativity from you, then they win,” the Commerce Township resident said. “If you refuse to be hurt or get upset, they can’t bully you anymore. When you treat your enemies like an enemy, he stays your enemy.”

Gibbs, 33, travels the country speaking to students about bullying while telling his own story of being picked on in school.

“I was bullied real bad. I was so wounded,” he told the CMS students. “I was in special ed. I had a learning disability. I was angry. I had a hard time reading because I was so distracted.” 

It all left him “an emotional wreck” and soon anger issues surfaced and he began cutting himself. By seventh grade, Gibbs began using drugs and alcohol, and joined a street gang called the Street Angels. 

“They would beat me up to enroll me in the gang,” he said.

The problems continued. In eighth grade, Gibbs went to another school “because I was bullied so bad.” He eventually dropped out of school in eighth grade and was tutored.

Gibbs’ circumstances changed when two influential people gave him a different perspective on bullying. When he told his grandmother the bullies made him angry, she told him, “That’s a lie. You make yourself upset.”

“My youth pastor taught me Jesus said ‘love your enemies,’” Gibbs said. “It was a crazy, upside down idea. If I’m kind, will people be mean to me?”

So Gibbs turned the tables on his bullies with — of all things — kindness.

“I practiced it. It was working for me. I treated them the way I want to be treated,” he said. “You can’t fight with someone who doesn’t want to fight back.”

The father of two participates in about 300 speaking engagement per year and encourages students to treat their bullies the way they want to be treated. Gibbs is originally from Littleton, Colorado, near Columbine High School, where a school shooting occurred in April 1999. Gibbs was friends with Craig Scott, whose sister Rachel Scott died in the massacre and is the inspiration behind Rachel’s Challenge.

Craig Scott invited Gibbs to travel with him to share his message, which is how Gibbs’ assemblies began to take shape.

“Bullying is a lack of respect, pressuring you or picking on people that are different. It’s so broad. I think it’s happening in all schools. High schools, middle schools, elementary schools, we see bullying as an issue,” CMS Principal Keith Tonn said. “We deal with it all here. We monitor our day closely, as far as student incidents or behavior.”

Tonn said while bullying can be addressed and dealt with in school, so much of it occurs outside of school, including on social media sites such as Facebook and Kik.

One way CMS teachers are setting the tone for student behavior is through CHAMPS, a schoolwide initiative which stands for Conversation, Help, Activity, Movement, Participation and Signals. Conversation, as an example, allows teachers to set the speaking volume among the students. Movement, for instance, determines if and when the students can move around during class time.  

“It does work for behavior in the classroom,” Tonn said. “The kids understand what is expected of them.”

CHAMPS Coordinator Beth Pope also runs social groups for the students that teach them how to mediate problems on their own through different strategies, as well as how to deal with friendship issues and “the importance of being respecting to each other.”

“It’s a life lesson. It’s a skill that needs to be taught,” Pope said. “We’ve had some kids that have a school phobia, and we help them be more confident.”

The Chattertron assembly was free through an Office Depot Foundation grant. Gibbs is on tour for the foundation’s “Live, Love, Move” program in partnership with the band One Direction. After the assembly, many students took pictures with Gibbs and asked for his autograph.

For further information on Brooks Gibbs, visit brooksgibbs.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.