With most of the seats filled at the Veterans Memorial Building, local high school student Samantha Slykas, 14, took to the stage on March 2 to talk about self-awareness and bullying.
The event featured speeches by Slykas, her mother Dee, Community Solutions and testimony from high school student and blogger Adam Bell on the effects of being bullied and his ongoing fight to achieve his goals.
Said Slykas of her reason for putting on an event about self-awareness: “I hope that everyone gets a little smarter on these safety topics.”
The presentations covered ideas including being aware of your surroundings, keeping yourself safe, bullying is not okay, being tolerant of others, and how to avoid being a bystander. Cyber safety was also covered. San Benito High School students and their parents performed several skits about dealing with strangers (“stranger danger”) and bullying.
“You don’t know anyone’s story until they tell it to you,” Slykas said in character during one skit.
“It is really important for kids to get the word out about stranger danger,” sheriff’s deputy Jason Leist said of the event. “It shows one person can make a difference.”
During a segment on harassment, victim advocates from Community Solutions conveyed the message to the young people in the audience that harassment is “not your fault” and “no means no.” Following the event, the advocates spoke with members of the audience who had questions for them. Safety tips were provided and are available as an attached PDF at the bottom of this article.
Bryan Stow of the Bryan Stow Foundation also gave a presentation. A San Francisco Giants fan, Stow was beaten into a coma and sustained brain damage at Dodger Stadium in March 2011. He has visited San Benito County in the past to share his experience.
Stow had a clear and moving message about bullying and recovering from abuse. Using a slideshow, he and his mother Ann told the story of Stow’s assault and recovery. During four years of hospitalization, Stow had to learn how to walk and write again. He still struggles with memory.
Stow asked the audience to stand and recite an anti-bullying pledge. Several audience members were moved to tears and Stow received a standing ovation. His parting message was “Despite everything I still keep a positive attitude.”
Said mother Gracie Duran of the event: “It was such motivational, inspirational speaking, especially to the youth here….to show them that no matter what you go through in life, you just get up and keep going again.”
Duran’s son, sixth-grader Joshua DeLong, said “it was very inspirational and it made me just want to try harder.”
Following the event, Slykas told BenitoLink she was pleased with how everything had gone and was grateful.