On a Wednesday evening in December, Hoboken residents gathered at the Historical Museum for an evening of education at a special anti-bullying event.
The night included screenings of two short anti-bullying films and a moderated discussion by expert panelists.
Panelists included Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Johnson, licensed social worker and certified parent coach Maria Sanders, anti-bullying expert New Jersey State Police Sergeant First Class Gregory M. Williams, and Dianne Grossman, who began Mallory’s Army after her daughter committed suicide in 2017 due to bullying.
The evening also included special guest Jonathan Detres who, while in high school in Jersey City, attempted suicide due to familial bullying.
“Events like this are so important,” said Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher. “We as a society need to educate and spread awareness about bullying and its effects. Everyone here has been touched by bullying in some way.”
A call to action
Frank Gigante, who hosted the event, became an anti-bullying activist and filmmaker after learning of a young girl’s suicide.
“In 2012 I was eating dinner, and I saw on the news that a young girl from California took her life because of bullying,” said Gigante. “I was shocked, and something just came over me; I knew I had to do something.”
Since then Gigante has written and produced two films “Alone with the Darkness” and “Breaking the Silence” to spread awareness and educate people about bullying and its effects.
Both films were screened before the panel began listening to questions from the audience and from moderator Fisher.
Hoboken resident of 17 years and expectant mother Danielle Manderioli said she wanted to attend the event to begin educating herself before her daughter was born.
“I want to make sure I am supporting her, that I am instilling her with confidence so that if she is bullied, which happens especially with girls, that she will have a voice and speak up,” Manderioli said.
“It appears like everything is peachy at the lunch table; everyone is sitting together and smiling, but you don’t know what’s being said”– Maria Sanders
Panelists weigh in
Residents asked a variety of questions, including how to intervene if they observe bullying taking place and why its so difficult to spot in some cases.
One Hoboken resident with a young niece said that even at just five years old she sees bullying on the playground in forms of exclusion and asked what she could do as an adult to handle the situation.
Sanders recommended making it a teachable moment by asking the child who excludes others why he or she is doing so.
One resident who helped sponsor the event, Toni Anne Pregibon, asked why teachers don’t notice bullying in the schools and do something about it.
Johnson replied that if teachers do notice it or if someone lodges a complaint, these are reported and documented both internally and to the New Jersey Department of Education.
She also noted that while most people believe bullying takes place in school, it also happens in other recreational spaces as well as at home and through social media.
Sanders also noted that bullying, especially in teens, can be difficult to spot because this is the time period when children go through a variety of changes in behavior naturally; these changes can also be a sign of bullying.
She said boys will more often bully physically while girls are more difficult to spot because they typically bully socially.
“It appears like everything is peachy at the lunch table; everyone is sitting together and smiling, but you don’t know what’s being said,” said Sanders who noted that often girls won’t speak up because they want to fit in.
In the works
Gigante is working on several new projects to spread awareness and address the harms of bullying.
He not only plans to write a children’s anti-bullying book but also create a new short anti-bullying film which will touch on the subject of mental illness due to social media, which he said is a growing problem among teens.
He said social media platforms can exacerbate preexisting conditions such as depression and anxiety but can also act as a platform for bullying.
“If I can save one life,” Gigante said. “If I can prevent one child from hurting themselves then it’s all worth it. that’s all I really want.”
To donate to his upcoming projects go to https://www.gofundme.com/brokensilencemovement
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at hudsonrepoter.com.