I hope you watched “Extreme Home Makeover” on Dec. 2 as I did. For me it was an opportunity of pride, as Bennett student Dominique Walker was featured, with her family, for a trip to Los Angeles, and a home upgrade. Why? Because her family remained in pain because their 11-year-old brother killed himself after vicious bullying.
Carl Walker-Hoover was hazed because folks thought he was gay. He was bothered, bullied, and besieged. He tried to talk to folks, but he eventually found out that no one wanted to hear what he had to say. He hanged himself at home, and the family avoided his bedroom because they were in pain.
Our pain. The child was bullied and badgered and he couldn’t take it. He was like more than 1 in 6 young people who say that bullying is part of their life. Many manage, and many manage by becoming bullies themselves. Many don’t manage. They are left out, dropped out, worn out, pulled out with parents so oblivious to the effect of bullying that they think it is just a childhood thing. A game young people play with each other. Not.
The worst of it is that the Internet compounds what used to be simple schoolyard chatter. Now, young people put rumors and nonsense into cyberspace about each other. And cyberspace doesn’t simply whisper, it yells. Young people’s reputations are on the line because bullying has taken on an Internet space.
Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old, was “outed” as gay when at 11 he probably was only different. Young people decided to play with him in the worst way, picking at him and on him and around him and through him. One day he awakened and told himself he couldn’t take it anymore. Now his life can be our light and his family can be a symbol against bullying.
What is it about us, human beings that allow us to batter each other? Does it make us feel better? Do we grow when others shrink? Do we flourish because they shrivel? While we pay lots of attention to young people and their bullying, shouldn’t we also pay attention to the adult among us, those who think that we gain because others lose, we rise because others fall, we use our tongues in a way to diminish, not flatter? As I watched the pain of the Walker family on “Extreme Home Makeover,” I realized that perhaps few meant harm, but many contributed to the utter tragedy that family had to manage.
We are all indebted to ABC and the “Extreme Makeover” team for deciding to help this family. They remind us that pain and passion reverberate. I saw lots of ads following the special, and into the next few days, of young people talking about the effects of bullying. Carl Walker-Hoover’s suicide puts a face on bullying and reminds us that there is a possibility of an anti-bullying movement. The ads tell the story, but can the people tell more?
Here’s the bottom line. We have all been bullied, one way or another, with a friend or colleague with a vicious, ugly mouth. And because we have all been bullied, we have all been bullies in our space. Humanity requires us to understand that the behavior we model is behavior that young people replicate. It requires us to understand that everyone can’t meet a bully, face to face, eye to eye, and resist the nonsense that can be called hazing.
For whatever reason, Carl Walker-Hoover could not stand up to his bullies. He had enough. He shared how much of enough he had with his suicide. Who knows what he might have been — an author, a scientist, a leader. When he died he was a young black man whose life spread out before him, a life he chose to end because he could not endure bullying. How many more lives will we lose? How can we learn to value every life, and to kick bullying to the curb?
I am so proud that Carl’s sister, Dominique, is a Bennett student. We hope to use her knowledge to help us grapple with the many ways we choose to hurt ourselves. She is a survivor of this bullying nonsense, as so many are. She is one of the leaders we have been waiting for!
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.