Bullying can happen anywhere to anyone. It causes harm in many ways. It is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a power imbalance. The behavior is often repeated and includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, or excluding someone from a group or purpose.
Here on Maui, an interactive, creative and relevant bullying prevention movement began last year after a much-publicized event at a Maui school.
Ever since Eileen Parkman defended an autistic boy being bullied, and then was beaten herself for trying to help, Parkman and her dad, Sean, have worked diligently to raise awareness throughout Hawai'i as well as nationwide to end bullying.
"Just a little over a year ago, we gave Eileen an award for her heroism," said Maui Autistic Center Director Howard Greenberg, noting that our schools are safer since the anti-bullying campaign began.
"As a matter of fact, bullying incidents are down since last year," Greenberg noted at the April 30 award ceremony honoring the Maui Police Department, Mayor Alan Arakawa, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama for their commitment in combating bullying, harassment and discrimination in Maui County and nationally. (See "Maui Autism Center Foundation Presents Heroism Awards" and photo at www.mauiweekly.com/page/content.detail/id/532467/Maui-Autism-Center-Foundation-Presents-Heroism-Awards.html?nav=13.)
"In addition," he said, "the Hawai'i schools have improved their reporting procedures on bullying, increased staff training and moved toward instituting an anti-bullying program in every school."
In a letter to Sean Parkman, President Obama urged him to start a nonprofit organization called "SoChildrenMayThrive.org" to tell Eileen's story and raise awareness of the global bullying problem.
"We all need to be concerned about this issue," said President Obama, adding that it will take more than the government alone to fix this problem.
"We must insure that all young Americans can learn in a safe environment!" the president said. "To combat bullying and harassment requires us to create a sustained and serious dialogue and engage institutions and individuals across our country."
Agreeing with the president, Mayor Arakawa added, "It takes everyone understanding that all people have value. We all have advantages and disadvantages, but all of us have something to contribute."
"No one is more or less valuable than another," said the mayor. "In fact, it takes cumulative skills in our community to make it work. We must respect each other as equals."
The mayor continued by thanking Eileen for her courage to stand up and bring bullying to the forefront.
"It takes bravery to take the challenge head on, to stand up and take the lead," the mayor said.
We have been very fortunate to have President Obama, the First Lady, Mayor Arakawa, his staff, and the Maui Police Department give us their support and help us combat bullying in our schools.
While much work is still needed to eliminate this problem, we as a community are moving in a more positive direction because of these individuals and institutions. We thank them.
The Maui Weekly thanks all those in the community who have helped the anti-bullying movement take root.