SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
"No parent should ever, have to bury their child."--Wolfpoet
It has been said that every person has their breaking point. On Aug. 22, 2011, Savannah Robinson, a 14-year old Louisiana girl who had recently begun her freshman year of high school, reached her breaking point and used a handgun to take her own life.
Her family later found out Savannah was being bullied. She kept the torment to herself, though she reportedly visited her school counselor the day before her death, suffering silently until the burden became too much to bear.
When Je'Mahl Ray heard about Savannah's story from her grandfather, a deacon at the church where Ray was serving as a youth pastor, he knew he needed to do something to help stop both bullying and those who are being bullied from keeping it to themselves.
"I had [bullying] going on in the youth ministry and I was teaching against it and telling [the kids] how to be confident within themselves," Ray said. "When I found out about Savannah, I said 'We've got to do something, we've got to stop this.'"
His solution was to create Savannah's Voice, a program aimed at helping parents communicate with their children and preventing bullying-related deaths. He said the thing that struck him most about Savannah's death was even though she was close to her family; she kept the bullying to herself. One of the goals for Savannah's Voice is to help parents and children draw the line between privacy and secrecy.
"Savannah's Voice is all about being a voice for those kids who don't have a voice," Ray said. "I think parents want their children to have privacy. Privacy is great, but secrecy is not and there's a major difference between the two."
Ray, a Schriever Air Force Base Key Spouse, is hoping to partner with the key spouse program to help launch Savannah's Voice and give it a strong foothold within the Air Force. He presented the program to other key spouses and is hoping some of them will feel as passionately about the topic as he does.
"I want to collaborate with [key spouses] and come up with ideas to support the program," he said.
One of the ways Savannah's Voice will help make the distinction between privacy and secrecy is through a game tentatively titled, "Do you know me?" Children will answer a series of questions, moving progressively deeper in topic from things such as their favorite color to what causes them emotional pain, and write down their answers. Parents will then be called in and asked to guess the child's answer to each question. Ray said the goal is to help parents learn what things cause emotional pain and when they might need to step in and offer assistance.
"At some point the parent is going to be off the mark [in their answer]," Ray said. "They'll know the favorite color, food and what makes the child happy or sad. They may not know what hurts, what bothers them the most or what they don't talk about. That's where Savannah's Voice is going to help parents get to know their kid more."
Ray said his experience as a youth pastor helped him learn just how much children keep from their parents and he hopes the programs offered by Savannah's Voice will help change that.
"A lot of kids, believe it or not, don't trust their parents in certain areas," Ray said. "They trust them to keep them safe, feed them and clothe them. But do they trust them with their emotions? A lot of kids don't, parents think they do because it's their kid, but you can't force them to do that. Part of what Savannah's Voice is about is getting in there and changing that dynamic."
Kendra Humphrey, Schriever Airman and Family Readiness Center work/life specialist and key spouse program coordinator, said programs like Savannah's Voice are important because technology makes it harder for children to escape bullies.
"In the past if you were bullied you could just go away or go home and now because [of the technology] they can't really escape bullying situations," Humphrey said. "I know last year we had three children in the local community commit suicide for issues with bullying. [Savannah's Voice] is a good program to bring forward and let parents know that cyberbullying [has escalated] to a whole different degree."
Humphrey said Savannah's Voice could potentially be added to the list of resources available to key spouses.
"We were talking about making [Savannah's Voice] a program and making it a class that could be offered through Airman and Family Readiness," she said. "We'd actually have a class where parents could come in and get educated about getting involved in their child's life and preventing children from having a secret life."
Ray said his goals for the program are to build it into a national campaign, beginning with a base-to-base implementation across the Air Force, which brings awareness of the dangers of bullying, teaches parents how to communicate with their children and what signs to look for in a child contemplating suicide.
While that may seem lofty, he said the ultimate goal is to eliminate bullying-related deaths completely.
"Our children are everything and if all we save is one life, I'll feel like we are successful," Ray said. "But my goal is to put a stop to it completely."
For more information, or to get involved with the program, contact Ray