Tag Archives: leadership

NCCJ announces Caleb Wilkie of Westfield as the 2012 Western Massachusetts Youth Human Relations Award Winner

10 Mar

The National Conference for Community and Justice is proud to announce Caleb Wilkie of Westfield High School as the recipient of NCCJ’s 2012 Western Massachusetts Youth Human Relations Award.  Caleb is 16, a junior at Westfield High School, and has earned this award for his courage in action as well as his relentless leadership in making his school a safe place for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth through education and advocacy.

Caleb attended NCCJ’s premier social justice program, ANYTOWN, after finishing 8th grade.  Upon entering 9th grade at Westfield High, he immediately approached his guidance counselor, Alison Kelly, to talk about what he can do to bring what he learned at ANYTOWN back to his school.  He had just come out as gay to his family and friends (read his poignant story here), and immediately felt the prejudices of many around him.  He realized that the only way these prejudices can be changed is through education.  He led by example and allowed himself to be open about his experience and his struggle with coming out.  He bravely faced name-calling with kindness by allowing others to ask him questions, and seeing every act of cruelty as an opportunity to make someone an ally.

He joined the Gay Straight Alliance and recently became the President.  He organized a “teach-in” for Westfield High School faculty to learn more about the LGBT community and to teach them how to be effective allies.  He talked with the history department to include LGBT Rights Movements as part of the history curriculum.  He played an integral role in organizing Westfield’s first annual “A Mile in Your Shoes: A Walk for Change” that raised over $3,000 for the Kinship Fund. He convinced his school administration to bring NCCJ’s BRIDGES program to Westfield High three years in a row and as a result gained 75 peer allies committed to fighting prejudice at the school. Caleb also continues to be involved in various NCCJ programs.  He has been a counselor at the ANYTOWN program, was a speaker at The YES! Campaign Conference where he bravely shared his experience of being bullied in front of 400 youth, and has co-facilitated various workshops.

Caleb is truly a rock star and continues to inspire his peers and us with his leadership.  He embodies Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching of “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  We are so proud of his accomplishments and are excited to celebrate him at the 2012 NCCJ Human Relations Awards Banquet on June 12th at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

To celebrate Caleb at the 2012 Human Relations Award Banquet contact GiGi Paolantonio at 860-683-1039 ext. 105 or gpaolantonio@nccj.org.

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Emma’s Words: It has ALWAYS been the time to end bullying.

16 Nov

Emma Murray!

The YES! Conference

by Emma Murray

The YES! Campaign on October 23, 2011 was a huge success. After schools arrived and registered, I was in charge to help rally students together to take a picture. The actual conference hadn’t even begun yet, but everyone appeared enthusiastic and excited for what was in store in the hours to come. I was pleased with this positive omen. During the first activity I was in with about twenty other students, we talked about what makes human beings feel included and excluded. In a nutshell, here’s what we decided for what makes us feel included: feeling part of a conversation, being paid attention to, feeling like you can be yourself, and feeling genuinely happy.

For excluded, however, the list appeared to be longer. We also all noted how much quicker answers were being spout out, and that it seemed much easier to come up with negative things rather than positive. The following was on the excluded list: fidgeting with clothes, pretending to text, checking the time over and over, not being listened to, feeling sad and not feeling like we are pivotal to the conversation. What was interesting about this discussion was that we had all just met each other, yet the environment and vibe was positive and happy, and everyone listened and respected one another. I also think it was a great moment of realization for everyone in the group; it was clear that no one is alone, that at some point or another, everyone has felt included as well as excluded.

At my afternoon workshop, “We Fit. Just Differently.”, I learned some horrifying facts about Autism. Over 85% of autistic kids are bullied (and over 95% of kids with Asperger syndrome are bullied). I also learned that autistic individuals take longer to process what is said to them; it’s not that they don’t understand, they just need a little time to process and reply. Writing is also more difficult for autistic individuals. I learned this from an activity where we had to place a piece of paper in front of a mirror and then write our name backwards, but so it appeared normal in the mirror. This was MUCH more difficult than one would think, and the point was to show us that normal writing for autistic kids is a struggle.

It is not only important, but crucial, for youth, for us, to end bullying in schools. Whenever teachers speak up about bullying and give us a “lecture,” some students tend to react with the typical brush-off “push it aside, suck it up, and move on” response. But one of my group members from my school said something that really made an impact on me.

He said that if the “cool kids” and “leaders” of groups or cliques in schools start standing up to bullying, then the rest of the pack will follow.

When teachers attempt to enforce and instill positive change, it is not nearly as effective because it’s coming from an adult whose JOB it is to say those things. Students left the YES! Campaign empowered to make a change. But what does saying YES! actually mean? It means to agree to end bullying and speak up when an inappropriate comment is said or when an individual is treated poorly and inappropriately; to become leaders in your schools and communities to make a difference; to make a positive change by positively influencing our peers.

It is time to end bullying. Wait, no, CORRECTION: it has ALWAYS been the time to end bullying. The question is, are you going to treat others the way you want to be treated? Are you going to make a change and say, “YES!”? I sure hope you do.

I’m asking these questions to you for real.  What’s your answer?

——————–

Emma Murray is also a musician. Check out her music here on YouTube. Follow her on twitter: @emmamurraysongs.

Caleb’s Story: I’ve learned that I would rather stand up than to silence myself by committing suicide.

14 Nov

Caleb!

Dear Diary – and to those of you who read this,

My name’s Caleb Rhys Wilkie, I’m sixteen years into this life, I attend Westfield High School (go Bombers!) as a junior, I’m close with my ridiculously large family, I have really good friends, and like many college-bound students at this age, I’m beyond stressed when it comes even to starting to look colleges. Oh! Also: I’m

Gay.

Catch-up:

I came out the summer after seventh grade (at age thirteen) slowly to friends. My goal by the end of eighth grade was to be out to 100 people, including family, and then have a big party. The party didn’t happen. However, I met and reached my goal of 100, doubled it, and then just figured what the hell and decided to tell everyone. I had guts. At thirteen I was openly gay. By fourteen, I had my first relationship ever, and it was going strong. It ended after five months but that’s a different story.  In the end, middle school wasn’t too shabby.

As I am still in High School, I can’t finalize my report on it; can’t judge it until it’s all over and it’s in the past. Although, one finding that won’t look so good on its record is that freshman year was full blown hell; with sophomore year being barely an improvement.

I fit the statistic: I am gay and I was hearing, “homo,” “faggot,” and “sissy” about 26 times a day or as statistics accurately state – once every fourteen minutes. I was being ignored. Sure, I had my friends, but the occasional talk with someone random in class would’ve been cool too. I had no one to relate to, there weren’t any other gay guys out in my school even though my school has 1600 kids.  I dreaded going to a few of my classes. The thought of being required to spend forty-six minutes in a class and be humiliated by kids while the teacher practiced the “ignorance is bliss” ideology Revolted me. Anyways, feeling alone and wanting to attract more gay people into my life, I figured I ought to change myself. I figured I ought to be more gay. I Googled “gay” to help. At that moment I became self-conscious. Google filled my screen with a bunch of pictures of beautiful men, all of them fit and in shape or skinny. Once again I felt alone – I didn’t fit into what the society’s idea of what a “real” gay guy is now – and of course I didn’t fit in with the straight people. I was friends with straight people, but I always felt I was not one of them. So I decided to be gayer in a different way.

I wore heels.

Yeah, that was a whole bunch of tiring fun. Being questioned nearly 24/7, laughed at, treated differently than I was the day before, being pushed, being tested to see if I could walk in them (I could), asked by teachers to give them a reason, talked about all over school, feeling intimidated to go to the bathroom, and then being yelled at by my mom when I got home for wearing the heels that I bought. The day I wore heels is the day that everything erupted. It’s the day I had an urge to commit suicide. I was done with being judged and being made fun of, being questioned, being ignored. I was done. Fortunately, I did not go through with it after going to a crisis center. The day I gave up and asked to die was also the day I asked to live, said yes to myself, and decided to make a big, fucking change.

Sophomore year was just a tiny step up from freshman year, like one of those oddly placed half-steps we’ve all stumbled upon. Slurs still happened, but not as bad. I became the president of the Gay Straight Alliance, making it more active than it ever was before. I stuck with my decision to make that big fucking change.

How?

I got educated. The NCCJ (the National Conference for Community and Justice) was my place of choice. I had ties with them because I attended their ANYTOWN summer program, I got involved, and I put what I learned and what I believed to practice.

I introduced the NCCJ’s BRIDGES program to the school and made sure it happened.  (75 of my peers have now gone through the program!) I practiced what I preached. I pointed out hateful comments. I spoke up for myself and others.

I did what made me happy. I gave up trying to be anything else than what I was.

Present Day

So diary, I’ve learned some stuff through my experiences. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable – and normal – to not be the stereotypical definition of gay. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to wear whatever I want to wear. I’ve learned that I’m not truly alone, that just because I don’t see certain people every day or as often as I would like doesn’t mean they aren’t right beside me. I’ve learned that I would rather stand up than to silence myself by committing suicide. I would rather protect myself and others in the future from being targeted than to give up. I learned that people who care, sometimes tell you not do to something because they want to keep you safe.  So I have learned to balance being myself and keeping myself safe – and to listen to their concerns. I’ve learned that people are not going to be accepting and welcoming overnight, it’s a gradual process. I’ve learned to relax and take a step back instead of being constantly overwhelmed. I’ve learned to support my peers who are fighting for their own equality albeit concerning: sex, race, class, religion, etc… because in the end I don’t want anyone to hurt and it’s all one big fight against hate. I’ve learned to be articulate and use my words and voice as needed. I’ve learned I have power, and people will – and do! – listen. I learned that my struggles have made me who I am today; a proud, happy, gay sixteen year old who I would not change a thing about.

I still struggle often with self-esteem issues – I find it hard to love myself after being disrespected in the ways that I have been. I still feel the scars of the words, of being avoided and ignored. I still sometimes feel out-of-place and alone. I still feel weak. However, I remember there’s nothing wrong with just being Caleb Rhys Wilkie, and that I can genuinely say I stuck to my truly life-changing choice to make a big fucking change.

Diary and others, thank you for listening to my story of how I found myself, and to how I said YES!

P.S.  The statistic was found at: http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectid=CA866DCF-1372-4D20-C8EB26EEB30B9982