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Hudson Valley Press

April 4th, 2012

Summit focuses on ending bullying epidemic

Skyla Rojas, a twelve year old from Walden stopped by to meet Hashin Garret after his moving talk at Saturday's Second Annual Reconnecting Families Summit.
Newburgh - “All of us are special.” Those five, short words carried priceless meaning to several youth inside Kaplan Hall at SUNY Orange’s Newburgh Campus Saturday.

Here, those youngsters, along with adults, attended the Second Annual Reconnecting Families Summit. This years’ theme was one that carried deep meaning for many on hand: “Stop Bullying Now: Take a Stand, Lend a Hand.” Several venues, including workshops on; improving school climate for all children, anger management, dealing with emotions, and keeping personal information safe, along with role-playing performances by the Hudson River Playback Theater, reinforced the days’ message. Keynote Speaker, Hashim Garret, a victim of senseless violence, further drove home some riveting points. A native of Brooklyn, Garret relayed emotional details about his dealings with violence. Flashing back to his teenage days, Garret spoke about his need to find acceptance; he further discussed his inability to constructively deal with his emotions. Brewing anger, coupled with a dire need for peer acceptance, resulted in crime involvement and numbness to any feeling; eventually he was no longer committing the deeds, he was the recipient of them. At age fifteen, six bullets from a semi-automatic pierced his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Now, in his middle thirties, the experience has left further imprints on him: wisdom.

“Who you associate yourself with affects you; don’t think for a second it doesn’t,” stressed Garret to those listening, many of whom were teenagers. “Always remember, when you have a conflict with someone, others will get involved and the situation will escalate.” He added, “The number one thing that causes homicides in this country is arguments; we have to be aware of what comes out of our mouths.”

Garret went on to ask how many in the crowd knew someone who was in a gang. Several hands shot up. Garret quickly responded.

“Weapons do not protect us; they kill us, what they were designed for,” said Garret, who after six years of presenting the Harvard Violence Prevention Program, founded “Wisdom and Understanding LLC. “Guns give us a false sense of power; they make us feel like nothing is going to happen to us; in reality, when we squeeze that trigger in one second, our lives can be changed forever.”

Despite the years of physical, mental and emotional suffering Garret suffered, he managed to somehow forgive the shooter of the semi-automatic rifle that forever altered his life. It was that message of peace that was also threaded throughout Garret’s words.

“Pray and forgive; when you forgive, it takes you to another, amazing level,” said Garret, who reminded everyone just how special they are. “I truly hope no one here takes their freedom or their life for granted; we are all unique and have something great to offer.”

Those individual gifts were also celebrated when the Hudson River Playback Theater reenacted a host of scenarios centering upon bullying. Selected young people came to the stage to retell their experiences with the topic. Interpreting the words, the trio of actors visually displayed those tales. Lively discussion soon followed.
“What is bullying?” posed the groups’ leader.

“Overpowering someone, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, usually in a repeated manner,” answered a woman.
“How does it make someone feel,” the leader queried.

The replies included, “upsetting”, “powerless” and “sad.”

Saturday’s event aimed to reduce and perhaps even end those bullying effects. Signs of that healing were evident immediately following Garret’s address.
“All the words he told us really touched me, especially that we are special,” said Skyla Rojas, a 12 year old from Walden. “I learned to stay away from violence, and I’m going to tell my friends to too.”

The anti-bullying message will continue to be spread. Later this month, on April 27th, an Anti-Bullying Talent Show will take place. Following that event, on June 2nd, an Anti-Bullying Rally will fill the street of the City of Newburgh.

For further details, contact one of the Reconnecting Families Summit co- sponsors: City of Newburgh Youth Bureau, Newburgh Enlarged City School District Social Workers and Parent and Homeless Liaisons or 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
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