One innocent night, I was sitting with some friends when someone said, "Did you hear about those kids who doused a 10-year-old boy's shoes with lighter fluid, and lit them on fire?" And suddenly everyone was sharing similar stories, each one more horrifying than the last. The over-arching question was, of course, why? Why is this happening with such increased regularity? Is bullying a growing epidemic or are we just blind to the problem until tragedy occurs? What is being done to prevent future tragedies? We spent the rest of the night questioning and trying to find some answers.
After I'd arrived home, a bigger question haunted me: Why does this issue resonate and echo so loudly in me? Why do I feel so compelled to do something about it? Well, it was at that moment I faced something that I have rarely spoken about to anyone—that I was viciously and relentlessly bullied until I went to university. And yet now I'm a confident and successful professional in my field, as an actor and director. So, how did I cope? How did I make it through the rest of my life without feeling like damaged goods? Was I just lucky, or were there certain factors that helped?
These questions propelled me into a journey of finding programs and tools to help students deal with bullying. I put aside my career to go on a mission, and spent the next year visiting schools, talking to counsellors, students, teachers, and parents. I spoke to many organizations that addressed this issue and I watched and participated in many workshops and presentations in many schools. Although each had its own merits, nothing really hit home with me as being that effective.
It was when I participated in a "Challenge Day" (the same group that was asked to work with the Columbine high schools after those fatal shootings) at a very rough and risk-filled school in Flint, Michigan, that I felt I found a template for a program I believed could help the problem here in Ontario.
In this very full and rewarding day, I was not only a witness to, but also a participant in an amazing experience. The room—which was filled with roughly 100 students and 15 adult volunteers was constantly alive—broke into different groups, and at times stopped for someone to share an insight or thought as they wished. The main focus of the day was for everyone to answer some simple, frank questions, with the adults sharing on equal terms with the students. Half-way through the day, some incredible things started to happen. I heard bullies apologize in front of their peers for the hurt they caused. Near the end of day, a very introverted goth girl—who had started the day saying she wanted to see "dead people"—got up and spoke to the whole group and was hugged, without any encouragement, by the whole room at once! The one thing that everyone seemed to walk away with was a profound new sense of empathy and respect not only for each other but also for themselves.
I left that day with a purpose and so, with my brother, I created "QUEST-I'm-ON"—a not-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing and creating a safer world for all of us to live in.
Since then, I have facilitated numerous workshops for students and staff in both Catholic and Public School Boards. QUEST-I'm-ON also has branched out to develop programs for families and private corporations. Although the amount of work is enormous, I feel happy to be fulfilling my dream and purpose in making a positive difference in people's lives!