Rising to the Challenge: A NIOS Activist | Not in Our Town

Rising to the Challenge: A NIOS Activist

On Oct. 17, Aquil Rasheed, an Oakland teacher and NIOS activist, joined me for a Not In Our School Trainer-of-Trainers workshop, sponsored by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Together, we presented to teams of students and their teachers from 20 schools in northern Michigan. At the session, students were introduced to the ideas of bullying and intolerance and learned ways to be upstanders, people who stand up and speak up for themselves and others to stop harm from being done. Also, the teams learned how to launch their own NIOS Campaign to prevent bullying and all forms of intolerance.

I had worked previously with Aquil to start a NIOS campaign at Oakland High School, where Aquil helped lead efforts to engage students in a positive response following an anti-LGBT hate crime committed by a pupil. I invited Aquil to co-facilitate because of the combination of his knowledge, charismatic way with young people, and commitment to NIOS values. Here he shares about his experience at the Traverse City Anti-Bullying Conference.

—Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director

Oakland High Teacher Aquil Rasheed

People began to fill the room—180 students and 60 adults in all—and I began to realize that what mattered was that we were there to listen and to empower those who had been torn down, spit at, and dismissed.

By Aquil Rasheed

As I began to prepare myself for the conference, I thought about the fact that I was going to be presenting to strangers about a topic that is not discussed nearly enough in our schools, communities, and households. How would I convey the importance not only of how bullying affects us as individuals, but how it affects us as a nation? I also began to question if I could reach out not only to the adults, but to the young people as well about the importance of being an upstander.

At the beginning of the day, I stood in the empty auditorium and I couldn’t imagine the whole room filled with people who wanted to talk about bullying prevention in their communities. I looked out the window into Lake Michigan and stared out into the water, asking myself, who was I to tell them about bullying prevention? What made me different from anyone else?

I told myself that nerves would not prevent me from conveying such an important message. No PowerPoint could touch people’s hearts and allow them to speak out about their personal experiences of being victims of bullying. I wanted to draw the pain and sorrow that we have all experienced out into the open, and for people to feel comfortable about being vulnerable. The only way to do that was to build trust by sharing my own haunting experiences with bullying.

People began to fill the room—180 students and 60 adults in all—and I began to realize that what mattered was that we were there to listen and to empower those who had been torn down, spit at, and dismissed.

Our special guest of the day was a cool kid named Colin, who also has endured several bully incidents. Because of this, his mother took action in a way that most people would never think of. She created a Facebook page called Colin’s Friends, hoping to make Colin’s birthday wish of having some friends come true.

Colin’s wish was granted, more so than anyone could have guessed. Colin now has over 2 MILLION friends on his Facebook page and was even featured in a video by music artist Galvanized Souls called “Carry On.” Colin spoke during our lunch session in which we were able to play the video and hear him speak about standing up for yourself and taking control of your life.

For many, conversation and words are not enough to spur action, so we incorporated something visual. Paint Over Pain is a NIOS activity created by Valerie Hughes from Oak Ridge, TN, where participants get to paint inspirational words over painted canvasses. We did our own Paint Over Pain activity in Michigan, creating works of art that displayed our thoughts and feelings about bullying and its effects from those who have untold stories. Each student was able to leave with their own painting and message of hope.

As the day wound down, I was delighted to see students and adults who had not spoken all day begin to open up about their own experiences to everyone in the room. We had successfully created an atmosphere of understanding, transparency, trust and hope. As the auditorium emptied once more, I knew our message had been well-received. We left with our ears full of stories, all of them connected to the potential for more action to prevent bullying.

Educators, stand up to bullying in your school. Learn more about the Not In Our School Workshops.


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