September 25, 2013 - Oxford Middle School students jump-started the new school year Sept. 11 with an assembly featuring Keenan West, an anti-bullying/motivational speaker
Anti-bullying crusader Keenan West speaks at Oxford Middle School. Photo submitted. (click for larger version)
"We brought Keenan in last year . . . (and) the response from the kids. It was absolutely fantastic," said OMS Assistant Principal Carl Sproul. "To get our anti-bullying program (OLWEUS) kicked off (this year), we thought it would be good to put him on in the beginning (of the year) because the response last year was so positive."
"He came in and the show was fantastic," continued Sproul. "It just really gets the kids focused (on) the idea of being aware of bullying, self empowerment, the whole concept of the school being (a) community and the kids doing their part to keep that community safe for everybody."
West said "the kids were fired up and ready to go."
"It felt good to be back," he told this reporter "I was just amazed at how well behaved they were (during) an assembly (in which) I'm asking them to kind of go crazy."
With this being West's second time at OMS, he changed his assembly, so it wasn't the same presentation. He recapped and highlighted a set of key points for combatting bullying called "the courageous seven" – pay attention, build them up, pull them in, find your inner peacemaker, stand together, ask for advice and show your courage – then discussed about how to move forward after being bullied.
"An example: 'Okay I've been bullied and many people have been bullied, so what am I going to do with that? How do I let this negative situation in my life become fuel to propel me to a new dimension, a new level in life," West said. "That was our focus this second time around."
OMS eighth- grader Madeleine Wiscomb found West's presentation "very inspiring to help students stop bullying."
"I think . . . that it got the point across very well. I hope that (message) carries (on) throughout the school year," she said. "I know last year, a few kids had trouble with (bullying), but I think the programs that are coming in and everything that's being done at the school will (lessen the incidents)."
Eighth-grader Georgia Waters said she thought West's presentation was "quite interesting," but admitted she didn't think it was as good as last year.
"Last year was a lot more inspirational," she said. "This year the message was not getting across as much as last year."
However, Waters noted that everyone liked it when West played and sang his hit anti-bullying song called "Never Ever."
"We sang along and were clapping," she added. "It was fun for everyone because everyone enjoys doing that even if you're shy."
West also gave a "sneak peak" into the lyrics of his newest anti-bullying song, which will be coming out soon.
"The new song he is doing for (anti-) bullying is really cool," noted Waters.
The song "Never Ever" is what transformed West from a singer/song writer and recording artist into an anti-bullying crusader and motivational speaker.
After recording the song a little over a year ago, West said a director friend told him the lyrics would work great for an anti-bullying campaign and that was when they decided to make a music video for it.
"Once we did the video and released it, a national anti-bullying organization called PACER wanted to feature it on their website," he said. "Once they put it up on their site, it just started to get a lot of (attention) and I started to get phone calls from principals and parents asking me to come to their school."
After getting information on bullying from PACER and receiving training on how to present to kids and what to talk about, West began speaking to schools all over the country.
"I've just immersed myself in the whole project and made it really my life's calling and my career," he said. "I do it as much as possible."
"I taught Sunday school a few years ago at my church and was a basketball coach at my high school for about five years, so I've always kind of had that youth motivational bug in me," continued West. "But just recently it presented itself as this is what I should be doing in life."
Growing up in Cincinnati Ohio, West said he was raised in a home where his parents taught him and his sister "to love everybody."
"When I was in school, I was not a bully and I did not get bullied. What I did wrong was I did not speak up (when others were bullied)," he said. "I want to inspire those kids around the bullying situation to speak up. That will make the difference."
OMS Teacher Jennifer Croteau said West's presentation was a "tremendous boost for the kids and runs parallel" with the OLWEUS anti-bullying program.
"The OLWEUS program is kind of a unique one," Croteau added. "Rather than focusing on addressing the bully, it focuses on supporting the victim."
For more information on OLWEUS visit violencepreventionworks.org or learn more about Keenan West at keenanwest.com.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.