Moved by the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge, several local congregations and campus ministries plan a vigil and walk this weekend to call attention to the consequences of bullying.
Faculty, survivors, faith leaders and the public are invited to “walk away from bullying" at the vigil, planned for 6 p.m. Sunday near the 26-foot-tall “Unconditional Surrender” statue in Sarasota’s Bayfront Park.
Children must learn to be respectful of one another and accepting of differences and diversity in their schools, says the Rev. Jim Williamson, who serves as chaplain for State College of Florida and Canon for Christian Formation at the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, based at Lakewood Ranch.
“There are some really hurtful experiences that don’t necessarily end up in a suicide,” Williamson said.
Oftentimes, the victims of bullying who reach college are “survivors” and learn how to speak out and to cope, notes the Rev. Dee Graham, who serves as campus chaplain at USF Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida and Ringling College of Art and Design.
But Clementi, whose sexual encounter with another male was secretly recorded and uploaded to the web by classmates, was so devastated he took his own life.
Few grow into adults without having seen bullying or being picked on or teased, Graham said. A victim could be anyone seen as different because of sexual orientation, looks, ethnic background, weight, height or language skills.
The recent string of suicides has helped focus public attention on the problem, Graham said. Suicide is a problem that’s not unknown among local college campuses.
“We have had them, too,” Graham said.
The Rev. Tom Newman of the Shrine of the Master anticipates that the 20 congregations affiliated with Gulfcoast Affirming Interfaith Network, known as GAIN, will participate in the vigil.
Each of the congrega- tions has embraced pro- viding a safe place for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, said Newman, coordinator of GAIN.
Among those safe places is Church of the Trinity MCC on Lockwood Ridge Road in southern Manatee County.
Organizers of the vigil want to remember those who lost their lives as a result of bullying and to send the message that bullying needs to stop.
Bullying has everything to do with eduction, says Paul DiPlacido, director of administration for Church of the Trinity MCC.
“Without it, you have ignorance,” he said.
Participants in the vigil are asked to bring a candle and wear purple.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.