Former resident spreads message of kindness
Henson Middle holds Unity Week, anti-bullying campaign
Words have power, Doug Reavis told students at Matthew Henson Middle School.
“I believe our words have the power to do two things,” Reavis said. “I believe they have the power to destroy someone’s life, and I also believe they have the power to bring life back to someone, and I hope you’ll do the second more often than the first.”
Reavis, who grew up in Waldorf, is one of the founders of “Silent Strength,” an online organization hoping to promote kindness in the world.
He spoke to students Thursday at the kickoff assembly to Matthew Henson’s “Unity Week,” Oct. 13-19, an annual event at the school to combat bullying and promote a culture of kindness in school.
Other events involve dressing as a superhero and spreading kindness, and a “mix it up” lunch day — aimed to encourage students to sit with others at lunch that they might not otherwise, said school guidance counselor Neal Bankenstein.
“The whole idea is that if you spread enough kindness around, you won’t have bullying,” Bankenstein said. “The bullies may not always go away, but if you have people around who are kind, the bullies aren’t going to fit in.”
Reavis said the inspiration for “Silent Strength” came from his brother, Chris, who was severely disabled and could not walk, feed himself or communicate. Nonetheless, Reavis said Chris loved to snuggle up against people.
“That was just who Chris was, that was just what he did, and that was just how he rolled,” Reavis said. “It didn’t matter to Chris who you were.”
His brother died at the age of 41 in 2012. After Chris’ death, his family created a website in his memory, and from the website, people began contacting Reavis and asking him to come speak at their school.
Reavis said he didn’t know if he should do it, but after the positive response from his first talk, he felt it was important.
The website includes the “Silent Strength” pledge: “Today, my positive actions will speak louder than all of my words.”
Reavis said he hasn’t always lived up to the example set by his brother. He said that while he was in middle school, he and his friends bullied a girl in the neighborhood.
“She was just a little bit different, and me and my buddies, we picked on that little girl pretty hard,” Reavis said. “And I am ashamed to tell you that there were many times when I led that charge.”
But in high school, Reavis said he and a friend decided to befriend a special needs student in his school, Luther, who was picked on by others.
Although Luther was mostly nonverbal, he understood much of what was said to him, and he found ways to communicate. Reavis learned that Luther was a big fan of Kenny Rogers, and one day brought a Kenny Rogers shirt to school to give to Luther during lunch.
“We were waiting for Luther to come into the lunchroom, and it wasn’t just our table that was excited, it was five or six tables around us, and everyone was excited to see how he would react,” Reavis said.
Reavis said Luther was overjoyed with the gift, and began shouting and trying to sing Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” and his excitement spread to other people in the cafeteria.
“People all around us were going nuts, literally screaming and cheering and yelling,” he said.
Reavis said that taught him how much more powerful it is to spread kindness rather than pain.
“When you help lead people to be mean to someone, they’ll follow you — but if you help people to be kind to someone, they’ll probably follow you, too. It’s all about how you choose to lead, and other people will follow,” Reavis said. “If you truly want someone else to feel true happiness deep down inside, be kind. If you yourself want to feel true happiness deep down inside, be kind. Because happiness is the only thing in this world that grows with the giving.
“Maybe Chris had this figured out all along, and maybe I was the one who was handicapped by society,” Reavis added.
Matthew Henson Middle School students stop to speak with Doug Reavis, “Silent Strength” anti-bullying speaker, following his presentation at the start of Unity Week Thursday afternoon.