For­mer res­i­dent spreads mes­sage of kind­ness

Hen­son Mid­dle holds Unity Week, anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paign

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - Twit­ter: @JamieACIndyNews By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

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.

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