Event targets bully trouble

A student-oriented anti-bullying presentation, “Race Relations in a Welcoming Community,” will be part of a community-wide meeting from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Calvary Community Church, 1031 Chestnut St. in Columbus.

The event, presented by the local African American Pastors Alliance, will offer tips on what students can do if they experience bullying, taunting or harassment, or if they see such things happen to peers, organizers said. The presentation is aimed especially at students in Grades 6 to 12.

Bullying has received added attention in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. after recent reports of about a dozen Hispanic students being bullied by peers with chants of “Build that wall!” made local, state and national news after the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Additionally, the Rev. Mike Harris, leader of the alliance of Columbus area pastors, said black students since have told him that racial tension has increased in some local schools after they were called racially charged names.

“People apparently now feel more free to open their mouth and say divisive things,” Harris said. “I’m not sure they necessarily mean direct harm. It could be something they’re just hearing their parents say.”

Harris said the alliance recently had a productive meeting with Jim Roberts, superintendent of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., about racial matters.

“I think what Dr. Roberts and his team are doing is commendable,” Harris said.

When the use of inappropriate language aimed at Hispanic students became public, Roberts issued a written statement to the community.

“In the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., some of these reactions have included remarks and behaviors that are particularly hurtful to many members of our student body and compromise our efforts to provide a welcoming and diverse learning culture of respect, fairness and trust for all,” Roberts wrote in one excerpt. “Our school system will not tolerate actions that demonstrate a lack of understanding and respect for our differences.”

The pastors alliance has addressed a wide range of local concerns, especially in the past two years, including police dealings with minorities and race relations in general. It also addressed student bullying last year in meetings with school corporation leaders after ministers said black students were targeted with racial slurs by some students.

Alliance members have said they feel called to be leaders and to promote community harmony through peaceful means.

“We never condone violence,” Harris said. “I want to find the right way to make sure that my kids are treated fairly and in the same way that your kids are.”

Free pizza will be available to people who attend.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.