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We have a duty to treat others with respect

In the words of Dr. Jean Alberti, founder of the Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence at the University at Buffalo, bullying is child abuse committed by children. It is endemic in our schools and our neighborhoods, and, sadly, suicides like that in the tragic case of Jamey Rodemeyer are far too common in our society. Indeed, homophobic bullying is one of the leading causes of suicide among teenage boys nationwide.

The National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York stands firmly against all forms of bullying and continues to call upon families, schools and community groups to move diligently toward the prevention of this type of oppression. We have learned much through several of our youth programs including the NFJC Youth Leadership Conferences on Bullying Prevention for middle and high school students from all over Western New York in 2010-2011. Two of these programs were developed by youth themselves for their peers. Additionally, we have engaged in several partnerships such as that with the FBI and the national Stop Bullying Now Initiative, and we continue to communicate with valuable local agencies like Gay and Lesbian Youth Services. The overriding lesson from these experiences is that the cruelty with which young people treat each other via defamatory language is devastating, and has lifelong repercussions for the targeted students, their families and their friends. It must be addressed and stopped.

Our organization is committed to overcoming racism, bias and discrimination. That means any form of discrimination, whether it is institutional or interpersonal. Helping individuals and organizations work within a framework of granting basic human respect and understanding is at the heart of what we do. While some may refer to this as "politically correct" or "soft," we firmly believe that by assisting the process of building trust and respect within and between groups, our city, our region and our world becomes a more accepting, tolerable and safe place to live.

Fear, ignorance and hate are the roots of tragedies such as that of the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer. These are not "soft" issues. These are issues of life and death. They speak to what it is to be human and humane. In our work we strive to do better every day, but we have a long way to go.

Once hate begins, it is contagious. But so, too, are strength and love. As a community we must work collectively to teach each other and the upcoming generations that there is an alternative to ignorance and hate. We must make conscious decisions to be mindful of how our words and actions impact one another. We must take responsibility for our own missteps, and help our children do the same. And we must do better. It is our charge as members of the human race.

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Lana D. Benatovich is president of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York.

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