Summit focuses on bullying

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 29, 2012

NATCHEZ — Tyler Blackmore made a decision Saturday. No matter how pressured he feels, he isn’t going to join a gang.

Blackmore, 15, of Woodville, attended a breakout session on gang-related violence at the Alcorn State University Extension Service and the Natchez-Adams County School District’s Peer Pressure and Bullying Youth Summit.

“So many people who are in a gang will try to pressure another kid to join them, but gangs aren’t like in the movies, like on TV,” Blackmore said. “It’s gang against gang against gangster.”

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In its second year, the youth summit is geared to teaching students skills to avoid engaging in risky behaviors. This year’s topics — including its emphasis on bullying and peer pressure — were determined through surveys conducted at a community, grassroots level, ASU Interim Assistant Extension Administrator Anthony Reed said.

“Out of all the counties we surveyed, bullying was always in the top five issues people had,” Reed said. “Once we started looking into it, the issue started getting more visibility nationwide.”

The tenor of bullying has changed in recent years, said Brenda Robinson, Interim Area 4-H Youth Educator.

“Bullying has been around a long time, but the young people are taking it to another level,” Robinson said. “It is more about harming somebody, about actually trying to tear somebody down.”

Saturday’s summit, while geared to students, was also intended to educate adults.

“The more people know about the issue, the easier it will be to kill some of the bullying in the school system,” Reed said.

Versia Turner attended the summit with her son, but said she was also attending so she could be better informed about what is going on in the lives of the area’s youth. She said she’ll take the message back to her church’s Sunday school program.

“I wanted to related what we learned today to the children who couldn’t make it, because this is very important,” she said.

Turner said before Saturday she was not aware of the area’s gang presence. Reed said the topic was included in the bullying summit because gang issues are often a logical extension of bullying.

“A lot of kids get involved in gangs because they feel pressured into it,” Reed said. “You feel like somebody is going to jump on you every day, and then someone says, ‘You can join this gang for protection.’”

The key to preventing bullying and other risky behaviors associated with it is communication, said Brenda Robinson, interim area 4-H youth educator.

“We want parents to understand that as your child grows, their behavior will change, and we want you to take a more active role in your child’s behavior,” Robinson said. “That means you need to pay attention, communicate with your children.”

“Effective communication can eliminate a lot of the bullying and peer pressure that is going on.”

Communication was especially stressed to students in attendance.

After they remove themselves from a bullying situation, students make sure the incident is reported, Natchez High School Principal Cleveland Moore said.

“Bullying is not new, it is how you handle it that is going to make the difference,” said Norris Edney, interim dean of ASU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “When you see it, move away and then tell somebody responsible.”

Research indicates that one in three students report being bullied at school at some point.