‘Time for us to rise up’

Published 3:32 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

Approximately 100 students from five middle schools and high schools in the Heart of Virginia vowed to create change in their schools.

The students, from Prince Edward, Cumberland, Buckingham, Charlotte and Amelia counties, took part in the Truth Empowerment Summit, a three-day event from Monday through Wednesday where they heard from speakers, participated in workshops, were placed in teams with students from different schools, learned how to process strong emotions, maintain eye contact and confident posture, and developed plans with their school counselors to support classmates and create a united environment in the schools and among their classmates, to disarm bullies and harmful behavior.

Students used sticky notes to compliment and build each other up and removed sticky notes with negative or harmful labels.

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School counselors were also instructed on how to work with students to implement action plans to combat bullying.

The summit was held Monday and Wednesday at the Robert Russa Moton Museum and Tuesday at Snyder Hall at Hampden-Sydney College’s Kirk Athletic Center.

Capping the summit was a presentation Wednesday at 2 p.m., where area superintendents and county representatives came to hear what students have developed.

Jenny McIntosh and Savannah McIntosh Huddleston, founders of My Truth Bomb, a motivational organization that encourages youth to become the positive change needed in their culture, organized the summit.

McIntosh, during the Wednesday presentation, spoke about why they organized My Truth Bomb and the Youth Empowerment Summit.

She said Savannah was severely bullied in school in Florida due to a cleft palate that required multiple surgeries. Students would tell her daily, “You are the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” and “How could you look at yourself in the mirror looking like that?”

“I said, ‘Savannah, what do you want me to do?’” McIntosh said. “Do you want me to take you out? Do you want to go to private school? Do you want homeschool? … She said, ‘No. I’m going to stay because I don’t want the bullies to win.’ And she said, ‘I’m going to stay because I want to be bigger than them.’”

“I’m sitting there, as a mom, realizing that if she’s got the guts, then I’ve got to have the guts,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh went on to deliver motivational addresses at schools in Florida before moving to Farmville.

Once in Farmville, she was approached by a representative of Randolph-Henry High School in Charlotte County who said the school faced similar bullying.

She and Savannah went on to deliver addresses at several other schools in the area. McIntosh had a plan to create a summit, and when she approached Dr. Amy Griffin, Cumberland County Public Schools superintendent, she said Griffin embraced the idea.

McIntosh also spoke with school counselors and administration.

“I told them, ‘you are the heart of this school,’” McIntosh said, noting challenges counselors faced as they tried to help students and became discouraged.

The goal of the summit, McIntosh said, is to build a culture that allows kindness and courage to flourish and disarms the bullies’ influence.

Comparing school culture to plants, McIntosh said, “If you shift the culture, the bullies who are like the cactus, they all of the sudden stop thriving, and the healthy plants, the ones that flourish and blooms and gives health and gives life, all of the sudden they start to flourish.”

Students, more than ever, are facing overwhelming stress and uncertainty.

“We have never seen a generation more hit with suicides, drugs, killings, shootings, walk outs, bullying, it’s unprecedented,” McIntosh said. “Some of these things are life and death, and we know this isn’t the only answer … but we know that this is an answer.”

“The reality is, it’s not time for us to shrink back and point fingers, it’s time for us to rise up,” McIntosh said.

A powerpoint showed the school shootings that took place in 2018 alone, including a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February where 17 died and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, in May where nine died.

Savannah similarly encouraged the students. She noted their courage and transformation over the three days they participated in the camp.

“This room is filled with nothing but world changers,” Savannah said. “We need one another in order to make a culture shift in our schools, and we need each other to rise up.”

Students from each school during the Wednesday presentation held a banner encouraging people to rise up. They held their finger in the air, symbolizing the event’s theme to rise and take positive action.

A student from each participating school spoke about their goals in taking part of the event. Goals included helping the needy and hurting, eliminating shame among their peers and advocating for acceptance and love.

After the presentation, students and counselors had tables representing each school and boards that detailed their month-to-month plan

Members of the Farmville community noted the impact the event had on them as adults.

Barbara Hicks-Spring, of Prince Edward, said having students from multiple schools come together at Moton was important to her. She said she did not attend school until she was 13 due to the closing of public schools from 1959-1964 in Prince Edward County.

“This is a healing process for our community,” Hicks-Spring said.