We had a terrible tragedy happen this past month in my community. A former student at my son’s school took his life because of cyberbullying. His name was Ronin Shimizu, and he was twelve years old. He was the only boy on a cheerleading squad, which I suspect is the source of some of the bullying. Out of respect to his family, I have not sought out any further details. What I know is enough. This was a senseless tragedy and my heart breaks over it.
Kids acting cruel to each other, misunderstanding, not accepting, and to what end? Do people feel better about themselves by hurting others? Anonymity does not give anyone permission to be hurtful and irresponsible. Insults given over time in large doses shared among the masses can do serious damage, inflicting wounds unseen on the other end of a screen.
I did not know Ronin before this happened, and my son had never met him, but as I write this, I well up with emotion. This year, Ronin had been homeschooled, I imagine to get away from the bullying. My son learned about Ronin’s suicide in school, although I don’t think they talked about it in those terms. It was too painful. Some teachers discussed it in class and others could not, too saddened to speak. At the end of the school day, a formal announcement was made by the principal. I had heard about it from a friend, so I understood why my son might seem down when I picked him up. He seemed a bit shaken and we talked about it on the way home, although he didn’t say much. I mentioned he could talk about it at anytime if he needed to.
Today, when I told him I wanted to write a post, he didn’t feel I should because it was too emotional for any more to be said about it, especially for the family, who has my deepest sympathies. Words cannot comfort here. I would give anything to change the situation.
But I wanted to write about it because writing helps heal at a time like this. And, for other reasons:
Because deep-down, I know what it’s like to be picked on. I remember when I was always the last chosen for the softball team for PE in grade school. I may have been scrawny, but I wasn’t horrible. I now know that I had low self-esteem, but I didn’t know it then. Adulthood gives perspective we can’t know as a child.
Because it’s not enough when I hear people say that kids will always be bullied and that it will always happen. We cannot accept this. We need to call out this behavior. Passive watching is the same as doing nothing and only encourages the behavior to continue.
Because cyberbullying knows no boundaries, and its reach can increase exponentially with each share, intended to inflict harm; a reminder to act before it escalates to an uncontrollable level. Time matters greatly here.
And because I have a message to bullies out there. As humans, we are mostly alike: 99.9% scientists now say. That 0.1% difference is what makes us unique and what we should all celebrate. Know you are no better than anybody else and you’re not much different. We’re all human and in this together.
But mostly, I was moved by the selfless actions of a solitary woman standing in the rain, holding a sign that said, “ONLY YOU CAN STOP BULLYING.” Meet 25-year-old Erika Lee. Soon after Ronin’s passing, she appeared at the corner of the entrance to my son’s school every morning at dropoff, waving and smiling as people drove past. I would wave back with tears in my eyes, even though I felt comfort in seeing her there everyday. Here she stands in the rain:
She’s a hero in my book. Day after day, she was there. Even after four or five consecutive days of rain, the most rain California has seen in a long time, she stood. Soon, people brought her coffee and the media did a story about her. On the last day before the winter break, I wanted to meet her and thank her, and maybe even ask a few questions. I parked my car, walked over, and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to me, and we hugged. Immediately, I broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t even form a sentence and apologized. She laughed, and said, “You should have seen me the other day.” She is an amazing, gracious person with a big heart.
She, herself, was bullied as a teen, and she wants kids to know they can talk about what they’re feeling, and that they are not alone.
I admire her compassion and for bringing awareness to bullying. She wants “to keep the memory of Ronin, and of those out there who experience his pains, those who feel alone, those who feel trapped, and have no where else to turn.” She will be back at the school after the break. Her long-term plan is to open a facility where kids and families can turn to for help; whether one is the victim of bullying or the one who bullies, everyone needs help.
She is standing up to bullying with such positive energy and courage. She told me, “I just want to make a difference.”
Erika, you have made a difference, and I know she continues to inspire so many.
Let’s stop this. Be watchful. If you are ever a witness to bullying, don’t just stand by, stand up!
Click HERE, if you would like to contribute to the Ronin Shimizu Memorial Fund.