Crusader for changing culture
KEOTA — The combined classes of Keota and Pekin high schools all rose Friday morning when speaker Mark Brown asked how many students knew of another student who was being bullied.
As the hour-long assembly continued, the students remained spellbound by Brown’s words. In a dynamic manner, the 51-year-old Jamaica native told stories of bullying in schools that he had seen. Without pulling any punches, he told the story of a student who had been beaten by bullies, and then put in a hangman’s noose. He told of a 10-year-old girl who wrote him a letter and was too young to spell the names the other students were calling her. In the end, he called on all the students listening to take a stand against bullying in their schools.
“I talk with the youth across America about their relationships and how they treat each other,” Brown, director of community relations for Great American Opportunities, said. “There is a strong anti-bullying component to it. I use as my device a Disney movie called ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and I draw parallels to what happens in school to get young folks to think about how they treat those who are different and to build better relationships.”
While the speech was originally scheduled to be at Washington Middle School this morning, Brown had to give the speech at Keota High School due to a two-hour school delay in the Washington district.
Brown said that his career in speaking began when he joined the Toastmasters in 1992. In 1995, he won the international speech championship. A computer programmer for Reader’s Digest at the time, Brown said that his bosses felt it was inappropriate for a world-class speaker to work typing computer code. Brown began speaking full time in 1998. He gives the same speech about 200 times a year throughout the country. He said in some of the schools where he speaks, students get a BMW for a 16th birthday gift and some have 99 percent free-and-reduced priced lunches. In each, he promotes a grass-roots approach to teaching students not to respond to such things as rumors.
“I guess I am a crusader,” he said. “I’m trying to change the culture of America’s schools. I want to promote a message of tolerance, respect, camaraderie and relationships.”
Keota High School principal Lisa Brenneman said that, with this being Homecoming week for Keota, she had hoped to get some kind of speaker during the week. When the chance came this morning to get nationally acclaimed Brown to speak at Keota, she said she jumped at it.
“The guy has it all and he keeps their attention,” she said. “I think the students heard every bit of his message.”
Brenneman said that there have been bullying situations at Keota. She said the school works “a lot” to prepare for the situations. She said the district has created a multi-age program to help students gain peer support. She said that she works with kids when there is an issue. The message, she says, is that the students don’t have to like each other, but they have to respect each other.