Anna Cole shared her musical message of making people – young people – aware of how hurtful bullying can be on July 17. She was one of four young people who provided perspective to the Senior Adult Ministry gathering at Swansboro United Methodist Church.

The 13-year-old recording artist is going to be in the eighth grade at Swansboro Middle School this fall. Joining her in the program were Izabela Willis, a 2019 Swansboro High School graduate on her way to Appalachian State University; Mandy Hanson, a rising SHS senior; and Ryan Warren, 14, who will be a freshman at Southwest High School in the fall. Terry Cole Sr., Anna’s grandfather, and Sheila Warren, Ryan’s mother, also took part in the program at the church.

It was the senior Cole who actually organized the program, pointing out to the two dozen or so folks in the audience that he was excited at the prospect of being able to share the message.

“What is bullying?” he asked the group. “It’s not as easy to define as you might think.”

Sharing a couple of anecdotes, Cole said bullying can take different forms: physical, mental, emotional or even financial. And with the anonymity of social media – whatever form it takes – bullying can be relentless.

“We can’t just say, ‘Stop!’ That doesn’t work,” Cole said.

He introduced his granddaughter, Anna, who performed her song “When You Say Nothing at All,” which, like all three of her songs presented, addressed topics relevant to teens like bullying and suicide. The songs stress how important it is for teens to not just avoid being a bully, but also to reach out to one another.

Stepping back to the front of the stage, the elder Cole said that there are more than 6,500 different languages spoken around the world, but a smile is understood in all of them.

“We all have a choice, we can be positive and uplift others or be negative and hold them down,” he said.

The idea was stressed several times over the course of the program as he pointed to a quote from poet Maya Angelou projected onto the stage screen: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Looking at the young people sharing the stage, Cole said, “These folks are out to do what they can – sharing their talents – to prevent bullying.

Taking the microphone, Ryan and his mother – with his mother doing most of the talking – provided a brief history of how they came to be involved in an anti-bullying effort.

As a 9-year-old, Ryan had been subjected to bullying, the older Warren explained. The episodes must have been extreme because one day, she said Ryan looked to her and said, “‘Let’s talk to people,’” she said. “And I said, ‘About what?’ and he said, ‘About bullying.’”

It was the beginning of “Stand Up & Bee Heard Stop Bullying Now.”

Warren said the organization exists to stop bullying and to offer comfort to those experiencing it.

The mother and son work on their own, sharing the anti-bullying message at events through pledge cards, wristbands and T-shirts.

In her next turn with the mic, Anna explained how she has been bullied, in a way, because of her desire to be a songwriter/singer.

“I was teased a lot,” she said. Often the teasing came from her close friends. “That hurt a lot.”

Her testimony was followed by a music video featuring her song, “Keep Talking.” The song is about a young woman using personal talent to make a positive difference and uplift others.

The elder Cole pointed out that the message is clear, “Stay focused on your dreams.”

In their presentation, Willis and Hanson shared information on the SAVE Promise Chapter at SHS.

SAVE stands for Students Against Violence Everywhere and the chapter encourages reaching out and being involved in positive ways. The Promise aspect traces its origin to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the national organization Sandy Hook Promise.

Activities this school year included handing out bracelets which encourage students to “Start with Hello” to prevent student isolation, which can lead to violence. Another activity was “Say Something if you See Something,” a week-long event under the direction of faculty advisor Martha Kelley in which students were asked to take a pledge: If you see something, take it seriously, and report to a trusted adult.

Another activity was “Meet at the Fence,” where students of adjoining schools went to the separating fences and waved at the students on the other side. This was to remind students that they are all connected and care about one another.

Willis pointed out that she had spent this past year as president of the chapter and also as a member of the Sandy Hook Promise National Youth Advisory Board. She recently traveled to Washington, DC, to participate on a panel on violence.

Anna’s final musical selection was “Don’t Go,” a song about suicide prevention, which she sang along with the video.

The song’s message is to encourage being personally involved in order to make a positive difference in someone’s life.

In his final comments, Cole told the group that there were 300 teen suicides in North Carolina in 2018. Three of those were in the Swansboro community.

In a question-answer-comment session with the presenters following the program, the adults were clearly of one mind with the young people.

The comments from the SAM group included a kindergarten teacher pointing out that she finds it very important to stress an anti-bullying message with the 5-year-olds in her care. Another SAM member said he recently felt the need to call out an acquaintance for sharing a racist joke.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The Senior Adult Ministry of Swansboro United Methodist Church conducts activities for seniors, including a monthly luncheon, a monthly movie showing, special events and trips. Adele Brewster and Lynn Rouse lead this group.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

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