Prattville – The sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Prattville was filled to capacity last night with parents, children, school and law enforcement officials, and concerned citizens, to learn and discuss the issues of bullying.
Prattville Mayor Jim Byard Jr. stated that although the presentation was timely due to a website constructed recently to promote “juicy” gossip among students, it was not formed for that purpose.
“Prattville is having a Town Hall meeting because Jessica Bookshire, whose platform is K.A.R.M.A., came to the city months ago, saying that she had met a woman whose daughter was cyber bullied and ended up committing suicide,” Byard announced. “She wanted to bring that lady to Prattville and we immediately thought that was a pretty good idea.”
“We’ve all been bullied a time or two to our face or in some aspect.” he said.
The forum featured speakers Miss Fountain City Jessica Brookshire and Tina Meier, a Missouri mom who lost her teenage daughter to suicide after being ridiculed on MySpace, a social interaction website on the Internet.
Brookshire spoke first about the origin of her K.A.R.M.A. platform.
“K.A.R.M.A. was born because, as a public speaker, I was assigned to speak to schools and my platform was breast cancer awareness,” she said. “Well, you can’t really talk to fourth graders about that.”
Miss Fountain City continued to talk about her personal experiences with school bullies.
“It started when I was about seven years old and I started getting picked on for having too many freckles and being too short,” Brookshire began. “Then when I was eight a little boy called me ugly … went home that day and looked in the mirror and said, ‘So, this is ugly.’”
“It got worse later … they would invite people all around me to parties and tell me that I could not come.”
Brookshire credited her family for helping her through the difficult times and for giving her the strength to stand up in front of people to tell her personal account.
Meier took the stage next to tell her story about finding Megan hanging in her closet just a few days shy of her fourteenth birthday.
“As a parent, there are no words to describe it. It tears your heart from the inside out.”
Prior to her suicide, Megan had been exchanging messages with someone whom she thought to be a sixteen-year-old boy named Josh Evans on the social networking site MySpace. It was only after Megan’s death that her parents discovered it was actually an adult using a fabricated account. This adult had written cruel explicit messages to Megan on MySpace just hours before she died.
Meir warned parents of the dangers of these Internet sites and advised that every precaution be made to protect the child’s privacy and safety, especially now when social networking sites are so popular.
“At the end of the day when you go home it is a computer with a screen with somebody’s name and somebody who you think you know,” she said. “But, you don’t truly know who you’re talking to unless you are face-to-face with that person.”
“So if you think you know this person and you have their personal information, you need to call them on the phone.”
At the close of her comments, a question and answer session was held. A couple of impassioned parents in the audience relayed their experiences with bullying in local schools and the Campus Gossip website was also discussed. A statement was made that the site contained only about a handful of writings by Prattville High School students and by no means reflected the majority.
After the meeting, Byard said he was pleased about the evening’s activities.
“There was a lot of emotion tonight,” he said. “A lot of folks expressed their opinions; good, bad, and indifferent … and that’s important to have.”
“I think it shows a lot about our community that our law enforcement officials and school officials are here to hear what is on folks’ minds. This is where it all begins for folks,” the mayor continued.
Meier travels the United States as a keynote speaker sharing her story and giving presentations on bullying and cyber-bullying to schools, conferences, parent/educator programs, and special events. She, along with Brookshire and the mayor are meeting with Governor Bob Riley and Senator Wendell Mitchell on Thursday to discuss possible cyber-bullying legislation.
Article by Melissa Parker
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