Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns spoke with education majors Friday about the future role they would play in exposing bullying and bringing it to an end.
Burns’ lecture was an introduction to a lesson on bullying and other high school society issues for the education course Critical Investigations of Teaching and Learning in Today’s Schools.
Matt Burckhalter, a graduate student and teaching assistant for the Critical Investigations course, coordinated Burns’ talk with the class.
“We asked Mr. Burns to come because of his video last fall, where he spoke to the Fort Worth City Council about school bullying and violence,” Burckhalter said.
Burns, who said he was an accidental advocate for the prevention of bullying, started his talk by stating that someone should do something about the issue of bullying. He said he told himself the same exact thing right before his life exploded last October.
After hearing the stories of Asher Brown, Zach Harrington and other teenagers who committed suicide because of bullying, Burns spoke at a Fort Worth City Council meeting about his own experiences as a victim of bullying.
When Burns was younger, he too was targeted by bullies and he too had thoughts of suicide, he said.
However, he did not go into details about his thoughts and actions because he said that would detract from his purpose.
“Instead of talking about the very dark place in my life as a 13-year-old, the whole goal is to tell the 13-year-old that is out there today that life indeed does get better,” Burns said.
The day following the city council meeting, Burns said, Facebook locked him out of his account because he received 1000 new friend requests.
“If you friend requested me, I’m sorry. I’m still trying to get to them,” he joked.
The next week, he received more than 20,000 emails and flew to New York and Los Angeles for appearances on the Today Show, Ellen, CNN and MSNBC, he said.
“I blew up my life in the course of that week,” Burns said.
Madeline Cranford, a first-year early childhood education major who attended the lecture, said Burns’ ability to put a face to the cause of bullying really made the cause more personal and real.
“It was inspiring to see how one person with an experience can change people‘s way of thinking about bullying, which is so prevalent in our schools now,” Cranford said.
She said she was also impressed by his ability to stay humble despite his the attention from the public and the media.
“The reason he is coming and talking…is truly about this cause,” she said. “It’s not for fame or for publicity — it’s all about the cause. That genuineness in him is really moving.”
Burns said media interest resulting from the city council video of him was waned. However, he still has been able to talk to political leaders in Austin and Washington. He said just last month he was invited by President Obama to participate in the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.
Burns said the fact that bullying is on the President’s radar shows how large of an issue it is, even though it sometimes seems trivial and routine.
“There’s a lot of kids in pain,” Burns said. “And they need some sort of reassurance that their lives can get better. And not only can get better — it will get better.
“For kids considering suicide, their situation may not change from one day to the next,” Burns said. “They still may be in an abusive household. They still may have to go to school with a bunch of kids who call them faggot and shove them down hallways. But their perspective on their lives may change if they just hang on long enough and don‘t pull the trigger, or don‘t empty the pill bottle into their mouths or don‘t step off the chair with a rope around their neck.”
The issue of bullying is not only being addressed by the Obama administration. TCU alumna and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), introduced Senate Bill 242 which would give Texas teachers training on how to report, identify and prevent bullying. An identical version of the bill, House Bill 224 is in House as well.
“They give teachers, educators and administrators more tools to more effectively provide a conducive learning environment for our students,” Burns said. “One that‘s safe and allows them to meet their full potential.”
He said a way that people could currently help fight bullying would be supporting current anti-bullying legislation, like Senate Bill 242 and House Bill 224, get out of committee by contacting legislatures.
Cranford said she planned on emailing state legislators about the necessity of the bill. She said that as a future educator, she is an advocate for anti-bullying.
“[Bullying is] a classic thing that’s in schools, but it really is not okay,” she said. “It‘s been ignored for so long. It is just time for something to be done about it.”
For more information about Joel Burn’s work with District 9 and bullying prevention, visit joelburns.com