Published 12:00 am Friday, October 25, 2013

SALISBURY — Almost a month after 11-year-old Daniel Safrit committed suicide, his father took the stage Thursday night at the Cornerstone Church Event Center to speak out against bullying.
Although Daniel is gone, Scottie Safrit said his son will continue to change lives because of the awareness he has brought to the issue of bullying.
“A Night Against Bullying” sought to raise awareness of an issue that experts say has caused thousands of deaths, and left untold numbers of young people with emotional scars.
One after another, speakers shared statistics and stories, and worked to galvanize an audience of political leaders, school officials and many parents with children.
“We have an epidemic on your hands,” Cornerstone Lead Pastor Bill Godair said.
Safrit said his son “had a very promising life ahead of him.”
“To me, bullying is a weapon that is used against children every day,” Safrit said.
In Daniel’s case, “it killed him from the inside outward,” he said.
Megan Braun, a junior at North Rowan High School, spoke on behalf of National Voices for Equality Education and Enlightenment — a national organization working to stop bullying.
Braun, who said she had also been a victim of bullying, is now one of four teen spokespersons for the organization, she said.
“Bullying is not ‘kids being kids,’ or someone being mean one time,” Braun said.
She shared statistics stating that, in as many as 85 percent of cases, there is no intervention by adults or classmates when a child is bullied.
“And, what people don’t realize is that there is more than one type of bullying,” Braun said, including cyber bullying — threats, intimidation or belittling remarks spread through the Internet.
Among the cases of bullying-related suicides shared throughout the evening were reports of young people who had killed themselves due to belittling, or rumors sparked by their sexuality.
Braun said that parents need to communicate with their children, and also monitor their online activities.
“Realize that, if there’s something just a little bit different, that you talk about it,” Braun said.
“If the school system could have handled Daniel’s situation just a little differently, he could be standing here today,” Braun said.
The IMPACT Group of Salisbury High School took the stage, with senior Bobby Johnson saying that bullying is “everywhere.”
“You see it at school, you see it walking down the street at grocery stores,” Johnson said.
Johnson said it’s made him see the issue in a different light. When he sees a victim of bullying, he said, he no longer sees just a person.
“Every time I look at the news, when they talk of a person dying, I think of somebody’s best friend, or somebody’s sister,” Johnson said.
“We are human, we all have emotion. We all cry, we all get mad,” Johnson went on.
He said his group’s prayer was that victims of bullying would realize that they are not alone, and that they have others they can turn to when they need help.
Carol Ann Houpe, director of student services for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, gave a brief presentation of the ways local schools are responding to bullying.
Increased training is being offered to school staff, Houpe said, and there are several bullying prevention and awareness programs being offered.
They include skills such as conflict resolution, and encouraging students and parents to report incidents of bullying – anonymously, if needed.
Also, Houpe said, the school system is forming a task force to review current policies on bullying.
“It is possible for us to make a difference to reduce bullying … It requires a team effort,” Houpe said. “We have to be committed to it, day in and day out.”
Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Lynn Moody was also in the audience, and was recognized by Godair, along with other guests.
In the aftermath of his son’s death, Scottie said, the Daniel Safrit PRAISE Foundation has been established, with two missions: to promote efforts to stop bullying, and to provide financial assistance to parents whose children have died.
“We can’t do anything about yesterday,” Safrit said. “It’s gone forever.”
But, he said, if people stand together, bullying can cease.
“It takes us as friends, as family and as everyone in our community, coming together … to say not one more child will be lost due to bullying,” Safrit said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.