When I think back on my time as a student at Sunrise Elementary School, I think of musical performances, getting my first “A,” and meeting my best friend Haley, whose kids are my godchildren today.
These are the kinds of things that 10-year-old Ashawnty Davis will never get the chance to look back on and remember. She’ll never realize her own dream of becoming a basketball player in the WNBA, and she won’t know what it feels like to have a best friend who’s got her back from elementary school through adulthood.
She’ll miss out on all these things, and more, because she’s no longer here.
According to Ashawnty’s mother, Ashawnty confronted a girl at school last month who had allegedly been bullying her. The confrontation led to a fight, which attracted a group of students who filmed the incident on their cell phones, which spread to social media, and eventually overwhelmed Ashawnty beyond what she could bear. On Wednesday, Ashawnty, a 10-year-old with a bright smile and big dreams, hanged herself in a closet.
Ashawnty’s story hits home for me, because I remember walking the same halls as she did, eating lunch in the same cafeteria, and playing on the same blacktop at recess. Unfortunately her story is one of many in Colorado and across the country, this year alone. In September, the Littleton community grappled with the loss of two students in as many days. They have both been preceded and followed by others across the country, including:
- 12-year-old Mallory Grossman in New Jersey
- 8-year-old Gabriel Taye in Ohio
- 11-year-old Toni Rivers in South Carolina
- 15-year-old Allie Johnson in Tennessee
- 12-year-old Ja’Qwanta Lamar Goodley in Louisiana
When does it end?
When do children get to go to school without fear of being bullied in the classroom? When do women get to go to work without fear of being sexually harassed in the workplace? When do we realize that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can truly kill us?
When I think of how we got here, I’m forced to think about the things I’ve heard on repeat over the last decade, at least: “Boys will be boys; they’ll grow out of it; they’re kids; they’re just mean girls; it’s just locker room talk.”
Maybe we should replace these all-too-common phrases with one of real substance:
“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.” – Author unknown
As a society, we have let it become commonplace to treat people in a way we would never want to be treated ourselves. We dismiss poor behavior in kids as a rite of passage, a ridiculous hazing ritual necessary to thicken kids’ skin as they grow up. But don’t we want them to have a chance to grow up?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one child under the age of 13 died of suicide nearly every five days from 1999 to 2015. That is 1,309 too many kids who felt they had no other choice, but to take their own lives.
If we don’t want to be destined to live in a world where 10-year-olds are committing suicide due to bullying, we better check our thoughts, rearrange our words and take action now.
Anti-bullying programs and no-tolerance policies are great. But as a society, we can also do a much better job of simply recognizing how harmful our words and actions can be toward others, rather than dismissing it. We can remember that the golden rule doesn’t have to be a religious decree upheld by some; it can simply be a moral standard that aims to serve all of us. And, we can model these things for our kids in our own interactions with other adults.
We have the power to shift our own destiny. Ashawnty Davis, Mallory Grossman, Gabriel Taye, Toni Rivers, Allie Johnson, Ja’Qwanta Lamar Goodley and far too many others should be our guiding lights.