Protecting children from bullying was the theme of a Tuesday night rally in the True Bethel Baptist Church gym, an event that brought out church members as well as members of the community, all of whom want more to be done.
The City of Niagara Falls was declared an anti-bullying zone by Joseph Lowery, Coordinator for the Niagara Christian Basketball Program, who organized the event.
"We are doing what we can to stop bullying. There is no place in society for bullying, but we have to work together," Lowery said.
He said that 160,000 children in the United States stay home every day because they are bullied, that two out of three students who are bullied become bullies, and that children who are bullied in their homes often become bullies outside of them. According to statistics, children who are bullied are five times more likely to commit felonies and commit suicide.
"There are a lot of kids who are suffering in silence," Lowery said.
Several children were invited to be part of the program, holding up signs and wearing T-shirts with anti-bullying slogans. A few elementary-aged children read poems that spoke to the depth of bullying, saying things like "Bullies don't let you play. They make me feel so small. Sometimes I want to transfer schools, and sometimes I go home and cry."
State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said it was more than just a school issue. He noted that last week the Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to better address cyberbullying, which he said was certain to be signed by into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
According to the bill, more than 7 million students aged 12 to 18 were bullied in school and more than 1.5 million say they were cyberbullied. The new legislation creates guidelines for local school districts to develop policies to address the issue.
Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said that stopping bullying was a community effort.
"The bottom line is that we are all in this together," Ceretto said.
Paul Morgan, an advocate who was speaking out for the Lesbian, Gay. Bisexual, and Transgender community, criticized Maziarz for not supporting the Dignity for All Students Act and said prior to the meeting that he thought there wasn't enough being done to educate people on sexuality-based bullying.
"We support any group that is working to end bullying, but it dramatically and disproportionately affects LBGT youths," Morgan said. "Anybody being bullied is bad," Morgan said at the rally.
True Bethel Baptist Church Pastor Craig Pridgen, who is the son of Buffalo Common Council Member and Pastor Darius Pridgen, said of the negative views expressed, "People who came here today to speak are positive about our children. Today I refuse to allow what should be a positive gathering and positive situation be ruined by adults. Don't show our children what we are fighting against."
City Administrator Donna Owens told the group that as a child growing up in Detroit she had to fight to and from school.
"It was tough. They made me not want to come to school, not want to participate, not want to show that you had something to say and being afraid to say it. Some folks want to dumb you down."
Mayor Paul A. Dyster spoke to the gathering via a recorded message and supported the theme of the gathered group.
"The City of Niagara Falls supports the expansion of a no bullying zone." Dyster said. "Simply treat others as you would want to be treated and ours will be a better city."