That’s the question that local high school and middle school students are asked each year as part of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage Stop the Hate! Youth Speak Out! essay contest. Last year, we featured the contest and the winner, Matt Soble from Solon High School, who wrote about a socially different classmate, in our Local Students Respond to Discrimination post.
This year’s winner, Andrea Bestor, focused her essay on the recent suicide of a classmate, Jay (not his real name). What is so significant about the death of this classmate is that he killed himself because he was bullied. Sadly not an uncommon story nowadays, this tragic tale can teach us all about treating others with dignity and respect.
In fact, the experience was so powerful for Andrea Bestor that she used her classmate’s death as a catalyst to create the Speak No Evil campaign in her high school. The campaign aims to eradicate the disparaging way in which students speak to one another. If you’ve been around any teenagers lately, then you know what I am talking about. As part of the initiative, speakers were brought in to educate students on suicide prevention and plastic wristbands were sold with the words “Speak No Evil” and the funds donated to a suicide prevention program in the name of their deceased classmate. According to Bestor:
Even when said jokingly, cruel words can kill. I am confident the Speak No Evil Campaign will raise awareness about the devastating effects of hateful speech. I hope the effect will be lasting, just like the effect Jay’s death had on me. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I choose not to be silent anymore.
Other student entrants to the contest wrote about their personal experiences ranging from witnessing hate in other countries to being the new student in a new country. What all of these students have in common is that in their essays they expressed the ability to recognize hate and discrimination and also the equally important ability to overcome such hate through empathy and action. Like the winner, Andrea Bestor, who started the Speak No Hate campaign at her school, these students display wisdom beyond their years. We could all learn a lot from them about how to treat other people.