As I watched the disturbing video recently posted on social media of a student being beaten on the sidewalk across from OHS, I find myself with more questions than answers. Beyond the horror of that incident, I was inspired by the compassion of our community and the unifying desire to prevent this from happening again.
As Village Mayor I ask, “How is OPD working with the school district?” Chief Sylvester filled me in on some of the details of the investigation and arrests of this particular incident. I learned more about Detective Walker’s assignment as the youth officer, mainly working with OHS students. I was reminded of the day-tour’s practice of OPD patrol officers walking the halls of every school, every day, helping develop lasting relationships as students grow. Kevin Sylvester and Ray Sanchez communicate candidly and frequently, striving together to maintain a safe and productive learning environment.
As a community leader I ask, “What more can we do?” Ossining has taken very deliberate, proactive steps to prevent bullying. Ossining’s Communities That Care is a model coalition of organizations (schools, library, OPD, local government, Open Door, and so many social service agencies) working together to create awareness, education and resources to prevent bullying. Ossining MATTERS helped fund an anti-bullying campaign in the schools that I learned more about when I moderated a discussion for the “Bully” screening that was part of the Ossining Documentary & Discussion Series.
As a parent I ask, “How can I help my own young sons to be part of the solution?” I will renew, again and again, conversations about bullying—remembering to acknowledge the role of not just the bully and the victim, but also the witness. I’m not sure they are ready yet for this personal story about their mom, but today I am reminded me of a moment during my freshman year of high school that could have gone very badly were it not for some kind students who stepped in to keep me safe.
People started to tell me that Jennifer (not her real name) was “gonna kick my a@$”. I don’t recall being entirely clear on her reasoning of thirty years ago, but that wasn’t relevant even then. I recall three students who each stepped up to help me in the way they knew best. Erica Fields told me how to fight her, offering a few specific suggestions to take advantage of my small size and Jennifer’s long hair. Though this approach might not have yielded great results for me, even then I recognized the kindness of Erica’s intent. On the afternoon when Jennifer approached me, we were waiting for the bus in the quad of SHHS (yes, I’m a Sleepy grad), and Marcy Andrew sat next to me. Marcy had been my friend since kindergarten and had surely never been in a fight in her life either. But as Jennifer started to threaten me, Marcy stayed by my side. I don’t think she uttered a word, but I vividly recall her presence. Thankfully, I never had to test out my recently learned street fighting skills. Frank Gomez came to my rescue. He and Jennifer ran in the same circle. He did it in a friendly, joking, even a little flirty way, letting Jennifer save face and getting her away from me. And that was it.
I’m not sure I’ve ever thanked Frank Gomez at the time. Yesterday I reached out to him in a Facebook message. He didn’t remember that afternoon, and has happy he did the right thing at the time. Now that I recall that incident, Frank is on the list of role models I will teach my sons to emulate.
What more can we parents do to inspire our kids to step in and protect each other instead of shooting a video of the violence? What more can our officers do to support the efforts of our schools to keep students safe? What more can our schools and organizations learn and adopt from other communities?
I am frustrated this can happen here despite the dedication of our schools, our community, our police and so many thoughtful parents. I am also grateful to be raising my sons in this community that is bursting with people who care so deeply about how we can work together to prevent this violence from happening again in Ossining.