Bullying awareness rally held at Fontbonne

After 15-year-old Retaeh Parsons’ failed suicide attempt left her in a coma, her mother, Leah Parsons reached out, sparking vigils in her daughter’s memory, one which was held at Fontbonne Hall Academy on April 5.

Nova Scotia native Retaeh was assaulted by four boys, leaving her scarred and ridiculed. She informed the school about the incident, but the school did not believe her and she lost friends. A year and a half later, she tried to hang herself, resulting in a coma from which she was never resuscitated.

In the process of raising awareness about her daughter’s fate, Parsons contacted Rosemarie Rizzo through her Facebook page, “Rosie’s Confidence Corner.” Rizzo said that Parsons’ story was heartfelt and that it hit home. “My sister was murdered many years ago and I felt part of what she felt,” said Rizzo.

Rizzo and friend Mike Beitchman, organized the ’No’ Means ‘No’ Vigil and Awareness Rally at Fontbonne, thanks to the school’s events director Carol Fell.

“We did it April 5 because people in the U.S. and Canada had vigils for this girl,” said Rizzo. “So let’s implement an effort to stop something else that hurts our community.”

That “something else” is bullying.

“Something needs to be implemented in school as a part of their education,” Rizzo said. She believes that, because of less parental guidance, due to 50-hour work weeks and technology, “etiquette is forgotten.

“No one teaches them it’s okay to be nice, it’s okay to do the right thing,” said Rizzo. “Bullying is words and physical. [It is] becoming more physical and becoming fatal. The statistics are there.”

For the rally, Rizzo had wristbands made that read, ‘RESPECT..TEACH..LEARN, “NO” means “NO”.’ and ‘Be a friend. STOP Bullying NOW.’ The proceeds from the event were donated back to Fontbonne, which will decide the best use for them. In addition, Fontbonne plans to hold an essay contest on bullying for all four grades. There will be first, second and third place winners.

The rally had about 20 volunteers and supporters. “It was a blustery day and the opening day of sports, which did deter many people from coming, but we had 30 to 40 individuals, parents with children,” Rizzo said.

Some carried signs with phrases such as “Stop blaming the victim.” Participants chanted, “It’s not right, and not okay, let’s stomp out bullying, every day,” and “Bullies are mean, bullies scare, be a friend, and show you care.”

Former teacher at Fontbonne Pat Norris read “Juice Box Bully” and “Tease Monster” to the children in attendance.

Rizzo said the children marched with the adults, which she said, “Gave them a feeling of empowerment. It empowered children to say no. It empowered children [to understand] if you see or say something, do something.”

This is key, added Rizzo, who noted, “Children are scared, even the schools are scared because parents can become brutal.” Rizzo gave an example of parents getting violent at children’s sporting events, even assaulting the referee.

“Bullying doesn’t have an age, doesn’t have a gender. It’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Rizzo. “You are what you live. Most bullies come from families where bullying is seen in the household, so they bring it to the streets and schools.

“Safe is no longer a big part of people’s lives. We’re not keeping kindness in our hearts,” she added. “I know it sounds weird but it’s true.”

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