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Speaker challenges SCCMS to 'take a stand' against bullying

Mark Brown imitates the character "Gaston" from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" during his presentation Oct. 24 at St. Croix Central Middle School. Brown used "Beauty and the Beast" as a metaphor for bullying. Brown said Gaston is a bully, the beast is a victim, and the angry villagers are people who go along with bullying.1 / 2
Mark Brown demonstrates what he calls a "plastic smile" for his audience during his presentation on Oct. 24 at St. Croix Central Middle School. Brown told the middle school students a "plastic smile" is "A smile on the outside and a cry on the inside."2 / 2

It was while he was watching a Disney movie with his family that Mark Brown discovered the metaphor for one of the speeches he delivers to middle school and high school students all over the country.

Brown used the characters of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" to illustrate the dangers of bullying in his speech "Words Count," which he presented to St. Croix Central Middle School on Wednesday, Oct. 24, during an all-school assembly.

Brown's speech centers on a moment in the film when the character Gaston has talked the villagers into storming the castle to kill the Beast. The villagers march off to storm the castle, singing a song.

"We don't like what we don't understand, in fact it scares us. This monster, he's mysterious at least," Brown said, quoting the song, "so bring your guns, bring your knives, save your children, save your wives. We'll save our village and our lives. We'll kill the Beast."

Gaston, Brown said, represents bullies who make fun of people who are different. The Beast, he said represents those who are bullied and the villagers are those who go along with the bullying.

"Every day tens of thousands of kids your age come to school and they wear what I call a plastic smile," Brown told St. Croix Central Middle School, "a smile outside and a cry inside."

Brown said some wear these "plastic smiles" for years, because bullying can start very young. He used the example of kindergartener pointing a finger at another child, telling the other kids that child has "cooties."

"The child who pointed the finger became our Gaston," Brown said. "She (the victim) became the Beast, we became the villagers. Our words became the weapons that we used to attack a 5-year-old girl we hardly even knew."

Brown said it can be easy for people to go along with bullying, especially at a young age.

"Before you know it, you begin to follow Gaston, who says 'Don't talk to her,' 'Don't play with him,'" Brown said, "Why? ... They don't sound, walk, talk, dress like you?"

Brown warned of the consequences bullying can have for students. He said he researched violence in schools in the area and found some disturbing statistics.

In 2010, 32 students committed suicide in the United States, and eight of those were in September alone, all were related to bullying or cyber bullying. The youngest was 9 years old.

Often, when called out for bullying, Brown said, kids say they are "just teasing." While he acknowledged that younger children may not understand what they are doing,

"I cannot tell that to a parent, a kid brother, a mom or dad tonight, who will sit down to have supper and they will just stare across their table at an empty chair," Brown said. "A child they love is gone because someone thought it was really funny to pick on the fat kid. To call a young lady a slut. To call a 13-year-old boy gay. To attack a child who was weaker, to make fun of somebody who was different. And nobody saw the pain, behind plastic."

However, Brown said there was something St. Croix Central Middle School students could do. He urged students to "Take a Stand" against bullying. He asked them to stand up for people being bullied. He asked them to reach out and be a friend to people being bullied, or stop bullying other students.

Brown is the 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking in the Toastmasters International competition. Brown, originally from Kingston, Jamaica, immigrated to the U.S. at age 18. He and his family now live in Georgia. He has spoken before schools and groups of all ages on many occassions.

Kat Brossmer, St. Croix Central Middle School counselor, said Brown was brought to SCC middle school through QSP, the magazine fundraiser company that the school uses. However, she said Brown's speech was unrelated to the magazine fundraiser.

"This is something that they're offering to us because it's such a pressing issue," Brossmer said.

Brossmer said Brown's speech was a tie-in with SCC's year of "Taking a Stand."

"Our focus this year is not just taking a stand against bullying, but what will you take a stand for," Brossmer said. "We're hoping that the kids can take this message to the adults in the world too."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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