Vigil draws attention to bullying
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — With tears in her eyes, Janice Junda described the pain her daughters endured.
“It got so bad, we had to take one of them out of school,” Junda said.
The girls were victims of bullies.
The Junda family lit candles Sunday night with dozens of people who turned out to talk about their experiences with bullying and raise awareness of the pervasive problem.
“This was wonderful,” Junda said. “We have so badly needed something like this in our community. This issue needs more attention.”
Megan Braun, 13, organized “Beacons Against Bullying” at Bell Tower Park, an anti-bullying event and candlelight vigil. Braun suffered verbal, mental and physical abuse by bullies in school.
Braun chose anti-bullying education and awareness as her platform as the reining Junior Elite Miss North Carolina.
“This is a way for her to heal her pain,” said David Braun, her father.
Unlike some victims of bullies, Braun’s parents were aware of the abuse and worked to stop it.
Frustrated with a lack of response from school officials, they complained to the central office and eventually convinced administrators to remove one of the bullies from the school, according to Laura Braun, Megan’s mother. They also changed Megan’s class schedule to avoid the girls who were tormenting her.
Master Deputy Alan Amerson, one of several speakers, said victims must continue asking for help until someone listens.
“Go up the food chain, move up,” said Amerson, who was bullied as a child. “Go until you get the help you need. There is someone, somewhere who will help you.”
Each speaker told the story of a different child who committed suicide due to bullying.
As Megan sang “Amazing Grace” during the vigil, her mother said she knew they could have lost her.
“You don’t know what it’s like to see your child every morning crying, sick to their stomach, begging not to go to school,” Laura Braun said.
At one point, Megan had missed so much school, her mother accompanied her to every class so she would stay.
Megan has recovered from her ordeal with the love and support of her family and church, Mount Tabor United Methodist, as well as therapy, Laura Braun said.
Speakers shared their experiences:
• Therapist Angie Kauffman said she was bullied as a child and became depressed and anxious. For years, she felt no self-worth.
She ran from the problem, joining the Army for four years. But afterward, the ghosts haunted her again.
She became a therapist in part to help other victims of bullies. She recommended EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, as an effective therapy for victims of bullies and violence.
• Dr. Lane Graham, Megan’s martial arts instructor, said elementary school classmates made fun of his size. While learning martial arts won’t end bullying, the practice can give victims self confidence “to walk with their head held higher,” Graham said.
• Elizabeth Safrit, Miss Rowan County, said a 6-year-old cancer survivor she recently met has endured bullying because she has a lazy eye due to treatments for her disease.
“I’m proud of you, Megan,” Safrit said.
• The Rev. Curtis Goforth prayed for the victims of bullying and forgiveness for people who have turned a blind eye.
• Sheriff Kevin Auten acknowledged that he had bullied someone in middle school.
Auten, who was a popular football player, joined with others in making fun of a quiet, introverted classmate.
“We picked on her relentlessly,” he said.
After Braun asked him to speak at Sunday’s event, Auten said he began to think about how his cruel words must have affected the girl, now a beautiful woman with a successful career in Rowan County.
“I wonder what she thinks of me being sheriff, with the way I treated her,” he said.
Auten said he plans to speak to his former classmate and ask her forgiveness.
Pleased with the turnout and content, Megan said she felt like the event was a success.
“Everybody got the point,” she said.
Braun is selling a cookbook she created to support NVEEE, or National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment, an anti-bullying advocacy group. To order a $10 cookbook, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.