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Oregon man walks to fight bullying

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 11:13 am

MINI-CASSIA – Jadin Bell, 15, proved the target of school bullies.

Soft spoken, gentle, kind, and openly gay Jadin served as a cheerleader at his LaGrande, Oregon high school.

“Everybody knew he was gay.  He just told people. They started picking on him,” Jadin’s father Joe Bell said.

“We got him into counseling and did everything we knew how to do. He was just struggling so badly. The counselors thought he was doing great. His suicide was all just kind of a shock,” he said.  

After unrelenting abuse, Jaden hung himself on playground equipment. A passerby spotted Jaden, administered CPR and rushed him to the neighboring hospital. There Jaden spent about two weeks, never regaining consciousness, before dying on Feb 3.

The incident stunned the LaGrande community and the story went viral. Joe Bell decided to honor his son and bring awareness to bullying by walking from LaGrande to New York.

“We need to tackle bullying. That is a huge issue right now,” he said.

Bell plans to be in Mini-Cassia on Friday, May 24, in hopes of speaking to students. Earlier this week he met with Twin Falls students.

“I stop and talk to schools and kids’ clubs. I’ve met and tried to educate teachers about the bullying. It doesn’t mean because you’re bullied, that you’ll commit suicide, but it can tear somebody down so far that they want to end their life. A lot of times it happens with gay students,” he said.

While Jadin happened to be gay, abusers target anybody who, for whatever reason, doesn’t fit in.

“You might not wear the right clothes or you’re struggling in school. You have dyslexia, you’re poor, you’re the wrong color, ethnicity or religion – there are all kinds of things,” he said.

It all boils down to valuing a fellow human being.

“You don’t have to agree with what somebody’s doing or like the person, but you still need to show respect. That’s what I teach when I go to the schools. I talk to them about honoring themselves, and, by honoring themselves, they’re able to honor other people,” he said.

Bullying also manifests itself among adults who, mentally, are still stuck in high school.

“The thing of it is getting people to recognize the damage they’re doing,” Bell said.

Of course, bullying isn’t new. It’s been going on for as long as there have been people to bully. Bell experienced it while growing up. Bell attended 27 schools, and being the new kid on the block proved difficult at times, In Bell’s case, it didn’t last long, he said.

“All that moving kind of makes you tough,” he said.

Bell expects to take 24 months walking across the country.

“Normally, I could do the walk  in probably nine months, maybe 10 months, but the way I’m going over 5000 miles, stopping and talking at schools, it’s going to be a two-year walk,” he said.

Bell walks along highways and carries a smartphone with him while pushing a supply cart. He sleeps under the stars at times but has been known to crash at hotels occasionally. His wife, Lola, of 18 years, visited him while he was in Twin Falls. The couple has four children. A Facebook page called “Faces for Change” tracks Bell’s adventures.

Bell started walking on April 20 and walks anywhere from 20 to 28 miles a day. He’s suffered blisters, but the calluses replacing them make him “good to go,” he said.  

“I want to get over 30 miles a day,” Bell said.

Bell realizes that he’s not going to stop every case of bullying, but he’s hoping his walk brings attention to how dangerous it is. Yet, he’s the first to admit that you never know what’s turned somebody into a bully. It may be a lack of self esteem or too much of it at the root of the problem, he said.

“There might be something in their own life that’s caused it. Talk to them, try to befriend them. It’s hard to do, and it takes a very strong person. I always tell my children ‘something is going on there. Befriend them and try to get them back on the right path,’” he said, and added, “Everybody has good in them, even the bully. It’s a matter of trying to draw it out.”

Bell says Jadin would be proud of what he’s trying to accomplish.

“I believe I can touch a victim or a bully. I believe I can do that. Even if it’s one person on my walk, it’s worth it. I would hate to see someone take their life like my son did. If I can help a few along the way, it’s worth it,” he said.

For more information call 541-805-8271.

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