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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another child commits suicide after gay bullying

Listen up. This morning, the daddy is feeling the loss of Jaheem Herrera, a beautiful, smart, 11-year old kid who came home from school and hanged himself. He had been constantly bullied, constantly called "gay" and a "snitch." You know: it seems that American youth of color are dying either from being tasered by police or from suicide as a result of the constant and, seemingly, unending stress of being bullied. Jaheem is only the most recent.

The daddy will be posting about America as a homophobic nation, a nation that villfies gay people then labels people, gay or not, as gay, causing them to be attacked, to be killed. And sometimes, like Jaheem, they are driven to kill themselves. But right now, the daddy is just thinking of Jaheem: of
his stepfather, Norman Keene, 35, sitting and embracing his daughter Ny'itsa Keene, 5, while discussing Jaheem's death at the family's apartment-- thinking what a smart, beautiful kid Jaheem was; thinking of him being bullied time and time again; thinking of him telling school officials about it; thinking of Jaheem getting little help from school officials but getting labeled by his bullying peers as "gay" and a "snitch" for his efforts; thinking what bright lights, what bright promise, the Jaheems of this world represent to their families and this nation; and what a great loss once those bright lights are turned off.

Here is the story.

Family says bullying led boy, 11, to hang himself

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The free spirit of Jaheem Herrera is evident in the family portraits in his DeKalb County apartment.

The 11-year-old enjoyed dancing and drawing, and the easy smile he flashed for the photographers was genuine, his stepfather said Monday night.


A photograph of Jaheem Herrera, 11, hangs above a poster on the front door of the family’s Dekalb apartment, all part of a makeshift shrine to the dead boy.

On Thursday afternoon, after returning home from Dunaire Elementary School, Jaheem quietly went into his room and hanged himself. His 10-year-old sister, Yerralis, also a fifth-grader, discovered Jaheem’s dead body.

“His sister was screaming, ‘Get him down, get him down,’” said Norman Keene, who helped raise Jaheem since the boy was two years old.

When Keene got to the room, he saw Yerralis holding her brother, trying to remove the pressure of the noose her brother had fashioned with a fabric belt.

Jaheem was bullied relentlessly, his family said. Keene said the family knew the boy was a target, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope.

“We’d ask him, ‘Jaheem, what’s wrong with you?’” Keene recalled. “He’d never tell us.”

He didn’t want his sister to tell, either. She witnessed much of the bullying, and many times rose to her brother’s defense, Keene said.

“They called him gay and a snitch,” his stepfather said. “All the time they’d call him this.”

In an interview with WSB-TV, the boy’s mother, Masika Bermudez, also said her son was being bullied at school. She said she had complained to the school.

She said she asked him about the bullying Thursday when he came home from school and he denied it. She sent him to his room to calm down. It was the last time she would see him alive.

Bermudez told WSB she talked to Jaheem’s best friend about the situation last week.

“He said, ‘Yes ma’am. He told me that he’s tired of everybody always messing with him in school. He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself,’” Bermudez told WSB.

Earlier this month the suicide of a Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover — who suffered taunts that he was gay — attracted national attention.

He was also 11. His mother found him hanging from an extension cord in the family’s home.

Jaheem was excelling academically, Keene said, adapting quickly to his new home. The family moved to the Avondale Estates area less than a year ago from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last winter, his grandmother died from cancer. She was living with the family at the time.

His grandfather returned to St. Croix after his wife’s passing. He’s taking Jaheem’s death especially hard.

“He says he has nothing to live for now,” Keene said. The family had planned a trip home in June. They’ll be returning next Monday instead to bury their 11-year-old son.

15 comments:

RiPPa said...

Damn, damn, DAMN!!!

I haven't touched on this issue because I've been befuddled just by the story of the 11yr old kid who did the very same thing given the very same circumstances last week.

We have to truly step into the 21st century. I can't help but to link much of this to our projection of feelings of being emasculated throughout history.

There is no way an 11yr old child is supposed to take his or her life.

MacDaddy said...

I'm wishing his family peace and a state of grace-- as much as of this that occur under the circumstances.

Nun in the Hood said...

Children of any color can be CRUEL...Having taught for over 25 years, I saw it time and again.....I remember teaching a couse in human sexuality and one of the units was on sexual orientation....That was 20 years ago; we tried to teach kids about the dignity of the human person regardless of their sexual orientation, and that at that time, when we knew less of the research on this topic, we tried to teach COMPASSION. The priest who wrote this particular course was taunted by ultra conservative parents.....This incident shows how important it is to deal with this in up front, concrete ways...
I will pray for this family.....What a tragic end he had to come to.....Teachers and administrators have a big job, just because of the sheer volume of troubles kids have nowadays....
Let's pray for them, too.....

judy said...

This one really gets to me, Daddy. I don't even have words. I've had to deal with bullying (my son has been a target) and I so feel for the parents, trying to be there for him and not knowing the extent of the problem. I wish I knew what the answer was. It breaks my heart to imagine this little boy - his short life and hopeless death.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

This is so sad. The really pitiful part of it is that teachers know what's going on if they're paying the slightest bit of attention. They can see how kids interact, they can see how kids act and react. They know! They often do nothing.
Back when I was in school, I was bullied under the watchful eye of certain teachers. They seemed to take some sick joy in watching a "difficult" student bullied and beaten.
We have anti-bullying policies in our schools around here, but it still goes on. Teachers know!

MacDaddy said...

Nun: Yes, those of us who have worked in the schools have seen the cruelty that kids do to each other many, many times. They do have software now and training to teach kids about how to relate better to each other. Some focus on tolerance and are really bad. Some focus on respect, even celebration of differences and are pretty good. But oftentimes, teachers are not allowed to use the good ones out of fear that they will anger parents. This needs to change.

Judy: You're right: when dealing with the something like the suicide of a child, words come slowly, if at all. When I worked with kids who were in gangs and one of them was shot and killed, no words came. I finally quit going to funerals. I needed distance. After a few years, I left the work. It took too much out of me.

Sagacious: I agree: teachers usually know. The problem the caring teachers had was time. They just didn't have to work with troubled kids. Usually, they would let counselor, social workers or someone in the administrative office know. Then the kids would fall through the cracks. Other teachers seemed to have gotten so disappointed with school administration, public schools and, frankly, the behavior of kids that, after a certain period of time, they gave up and either went into other careers like real estate or waited for retirement.

But, for some teachers, there were the two or three kids they connected to and helped academically or socially that made it all worthwhile. As a counselor in the schools, I admired those teachers the most.

Anonymous said...

This is so sad...thanks for heightening the awareness about this.

Evenotes

MacDaddy said...

David Wayne Hampton: Welcome. And thanks for becoming a follower. Feel free to come back and share your comments. Or just read the different posts. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for drawing our attention to this tragic story and honoring Jaheem's memory. These poor children are like the proverbial canaries in coal mines I'm afraid. Sadly, I know Minneapolis went through cutting large numbers of school counselors a few years back -- the group with the most expertise in preventing bullying or helping the bullied ... Read Morecope. I wonder if there was a counselor at this boy's school? Or maybe the district decided to re-allocate $$ on more achievement testing instead . . . arrrgh.

Verna

Anonymous said...

I have seen and been dealing with my own child being bullied. She is called names about her appearance. She has freckles and they call her a whore etc. She is 13 now but this went on for 10 yrs. I am proud that she is strong but she to talks at times about ending her life. I pray each day that God will give her the strength to deal with such antics. May God bless you and your family and I pray for them all...Yours in Christ!

David Wayne Hampton: said...

As a teacher myself, I know that bullying goes on. I try to teach not just English, but respect -- not just for me but for each other. If anyone says or does otherwise in my classroom, even in the slightest it is immediately dealt with. If I see occur in the hallway, I motion for the nearest teacher for help (students sometimes think that I'm not their classroom teacher that they don't have to listen to me or can get away). However, most times it occurs away from the eyes of teachers -- in the bathrooms, after school around the corner of the building. So I feel it is also the responsibility of administrators of schools to make sure that not only is discipline followed through with when teachers report it, but also to hold teachers accountable when teachers witness it but don't report it, as well as ensuring that resource officers are available and patroling the grounds after school. It angers me when I hear of these kinds of stories because I know it could have been prevented if measures were taken long before.

Thanks MacDaddy for making aware these injustices to the web world. You really seem to have a finger on the pulse of some important social issues.

MacDaddy said...

Dave: Thanks for sharing your perspective. Come again.

MadMike said...

Sad...very sad.

Anonymous said...

Hi Daddy, My heart goes out to this family. I can't imagine what they must be going thru. But I was wondering if anyone did a background check on these parents. I did and was overwhelmed. I have learned in my life time that some things are not as it seems.

Anonymous said...

You know this.. is really amazing.. People can be so cruel..I am sorry that the life of that child at 11 is gone after losing his grandmother less than a year ago.. that child hasn't lived there for a year yet.. the combination may have just been too much for him.. But that isn't that stepdaddy the same one that just came out of jail for Domestic Violence??