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'Enough is enough': Woodlands teenager addresses Conroe school board about bullying
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas -- It's nerve-wracking for anybody to stand in a room full of strangers and capture their attention for several minutes, but a 16-year-old resident of The Woodlands did exactly that at the Feb. 20 Conroe ISD board meeting.
Theresa DeMayo was there to talk about the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida, and how she feels bullying may have played a role in the tragedy.
"I don't believe guns kill people," Theresa told the board. "I believe our actions and our words kill people. Our actions and our words spark people into picking up weapons."
Theresa feels this way because of a personal experience she had one night while video chatting with a friend who was being bullied. Theresa said he spoke of getting a weapon and shooting up his school, just to try to make it stop.
Theresa immediately told her mom and they called police. In the end, Theresa lost a friend who felt she betrayed his trust, but she was also proud of herself for being strong enough to speak up.
And that's the foundation behind Be Strong, a national nonprofit organization that focuses on a student-led approach to prevent bullying. The Be Strong website states that youth, parents/guardians, educators and social service providers can work together to save lives.
Theresa is the Be Strong Student State Representative for Texas.
"Be Strong isn't just a place for victims. It's also for the bullies," Theresa said. "We don't want bullies to think they don't have a place to go, because it would just make things worse. We want them to get help so they don't feel like they have to bully to be heard."
Theresa said she herself has been a victim of bullying so severe that she contemplated suicide because she felt nobody was listening to her cries for help.
"We are not 'just kids.' We are people with opinions and feelings," she told the board. "I feel like adults forget that. It is not just girl drama. It is not just boys being boys. We should not have to just survive high school. We deserve to be able to come to a place where we can learn, be ourselves, and be proud to call that place our school."
Things improved some in eighth grade, Theresa said, as she was fortunate to have teachers that listened.
"They saved my life because they showed me someone cared, and that I was being heard," Theresa said. "We need more people like that in schools."
Theresa also leaned on her mother for support.
"I always used to tell my mom that someone needs to do something, someone needs to say something," Theresa said. "She would say 'you can be that person.' I would get frustrated because I didn't want to be that person. But then I finally decided enough is enough."
That's when Theresa became involved with Be Strong. She encourages schools to set up Be Strong clubs, and is available to speak at meetings. In fact, after the success of her speech at Conroe ISD, she's been invited to speak at the March 20 Montgomery ISD board meeting.
Theresa ultimately decided to complete high school via home schooling, and she's currently a fulltime student at Lone Star College-Montgomery.
The bullying she endured, and the path she's on with Be Strong, has taught her a different kind of lesson.
"One of the ways I choose to live my life is to never look down on somebody, unless you're looking down on them to pick them up," she said. "Even my bullies. I still want to help them."
For more information about Be Strong, visit bestrong.global.