HARRAH — Sparked by claims a teenager had been bullied, activists, children, parents and teachers attended an anti-bullying rally outside the middle school on Thursday.
Many held signs with such messages as “See something/Say something,” “Words Hurt,” and “Take a Stand.”
More than 100 people showed up at the rally, which was punctuated by hugs, tears and calls to
It was clear from the onset the protest wasn't just about allegations of bullying from 13-year-old middle school student Arzell Gaddis.
“It's not an Arzell issue anymore,” said his foster mother, Heather Winstead. “Other kids are going through the same thing.”
Arzell and his family claim the biracial teen was the target of racial slurs made as he and other boys were playing an athletic game after school.
He said other boys changed the game's name from “smear the q - - - - to “smear the n - - - - - -.”
He said he was purposefully injured during the game by players who didn't like him and claims he wasn't helped by the teacher.
His family mentioned other situations where the youth had been bullied.
Harrah Superintendent Dean Hughes said he's aware of the incident during the game.
The teacher who was supervising the activity is being investigated.
Hughes said this is the only incident that's been reported to the school in regard to Arzell being bullied. He said the school takes all allegations of bullying seriously.
“If we find that there was something done wrong here, we will take care of it,” Hughes said.
The school bullying policy states “Incidents of physical assault, intimidation ... harassing, and/or other negative behaviors will not be tolerated.” Those who violate the policy are subject to discipline, including the incidents being reported to law enforcement agencies.
Malik Leigh, who left Oklahoma in 2006 and now practices law in Florida, is a friend of the teen's family and flew out to help organize the rally.
“Over the last 48 hours, I've had so many parents and kids calling me about being bullied,” Leigh said.
“Too many of our kids are dying because people aren't speaking out,” said Garland Pruitt of the Oklahoma NAACP
Bullying victims speak about their struggles
James Cooper, a teacher and writer who lives in Oklahoma City, described how he was bullied as a teen in Choctaw, a few miles to the west of
“We all get a voice,” he said. “This is the area where I was first called the ‘N-word.' But this is your home and don't let ignorant, backwoods people force you from it.”
The Rev. Scott Hamilton, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, said all kids deserve to go to school free from fear and bullying.
Cimarron Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy and education on behalf of the state's gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Repeating the racist statement Arzell claims was made while the boys were playing, and the anti-gay name of the game, Hamilton asked how school administrators and teachers could tolerate those terms being used.
“Something has to change. Talk to your children, your grandchildren ... Let's not let it be business as usual.”