KILLEN — Pete Key had a message this week for the 3,400 seventh- through 12th-graders in Lauderdale County: “Standing by and not doing anything to help a kid being bullied isn’t helping. It makes you part of the problem.”
On Thursday morning at Brooks High School, Key, a Florence resident and motivational speaker who travels the country speaking on a variety of topics affecting youth, played out the role of “Ray Ray,” a high school bully who committed what has been termed as bullycide.
As a result of bullying another student to the point of suicide, his character was serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Dressed in an orange prison issue-type jumpsuit and bandana, a handcuffed and shackled Key began the dramatization as Ray Ray by being led into the school gymnasium by sheriff’s deputies.
Ray Ray began telling his story — how a growth spurt that sent him towering over his peers by eighth grade lead to his feeling of superiority, fed by a small group of friends. Soon, he began bullying classmates, first by taking lunch money from other students and verbally harassing them.
The behavior grew to include threats to boys who talked to his girlfriend. Ultimately, overtaken by anger over his girlfriend breaking off their relationship, he threatened her friend, Maurice. Much smaller in stature and fearing for his life, Maurice committed suicide.
Students didn’t know until his dramatization was over, that Ray Ray was merely a character being played out by Key.
“Man, I thought he was a convict, for real,” said Brooks eighth-grader Sawyer Hanback. “He was convincing and he sure makes you think.”
Key told the students that there are “Maurices among you, right here in this school.”
“There’s someone in this (gym) who’s thinking there’s no getting rid of the problems in his/her life, so he might as well just kill himself. Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary problem,” Key said.
He told the students to think about a time when they’ve seen another student being bullied and how they had reacted.
“Maybe you weren’t doing the bullying, but you just sat back and didn’t do anything,” Key said. “Well, guess what? You’re guilty, too.”
Brooks senior Raland Stewart said the program was thought provoking and that Key brought a great message.
“I think this will definitely change a lot of people’s mindset about bullying, even about what bullying really is.”
Key, through his company Ole Pete Key Inc., has spoken to more than 500,000 youth across the U.S. and parts of Europe. He is working on a movie with actor Cedric Pendleton, a Florence native whose works have included stage, television and film, about the affects of bullying and violence.
Brooks High School Guidance Counselor Callie Rasberry said the issue of bullying is of great concern to parents and educators and must be taken seriously.
“With the access to Internet and (social media) the opportunities for students to be publicly ridiculed has grown exponentially.
“We know bullying is a problem,” she said. “It’s everywhere, and we have to face it and take a proactive approach to finding answers.”
This semester, Brooks is beginning a mentoring program called TAB, Teens Against Bullying. In the program, younger students in the school system are mentored by senior high students.
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.