BY: DELLIA RISMAY
By now, it’s old news that bullying, no matter what type it is, is linked to social and mental issues. Both the aggressor and victim are at risk of emotional and behavioural problems that can be carried with them for life. In the aggressor, bullying can lead to substance abuse, aggression, dating aggression, sexual harassment, and other criminal behaviour. In victims, it can lead to depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, stress-related health problems, and in the most extreme cases, suicide. Stop and Imagine Toronto Anti-Bullying Youth Association aims to address these issues by stopping bullying in its tracks.
Now in its third year of existence, Stop and Imagine TABYA was founded by Nichole Edwards after herself and her family went through a difficult time in their lives. Edwards went through a marriage, separation and the loss of her unborn daughter, Nyimka, due to the stress of having to move to a different neighbourhood because the family was being bullied so badly. “The combination put me in a place where I had to turn my pain into something, and we came up with the idea,” she says. As Edwards and her family have firsthand experience of the pain that bullying can cause, they wanted to help break the cycle by creating a safe space where youth are given the tools they need to combat the issue.
Through workshops at community centres and schools across the GTA, Edwards draws on her personal experience and background in social work and life skills coaching to help uplift youth and teach them anti-bullying strategies. There is focus on areas such as conflict resolution, team building, stress management, and holistic well-being. To help kids foster a sense of confidence, Stop and Imagine TABYA also runs several programs, including Dance Squad, Empowerment Club, and Speaking with Confidence. According to Edwards, this is vital, because confidence makes it easier for people to navigate themselves in society. “Words are very powerful, and people are going to say things, and things are going to happen, so you have to have the self-confidence to know that’s their issue, not you,” she explains.
Edwards says that after participating in Stop and Imagine TABYA workshops, youth have taken away valuable anti-bullying lessons. She notes one particular situation that went from a confrontation to a coaching opportunity. When her son was being assaulted at a community centre by another youth, to help diffuse the situation, the centre’s staff called Edwards and asked her to intervene. The three of them sat down and had a conversation about why the fight occurred. After the incident, Edwards says parents of other children asked her how she was able to handle the situation knowing it involved her own child. She says it was especially important for her to get involved because she needed to show other parents that she would handle a similar situation with any of their children the same way. Edwards says that since the program started, youth have been telling her about the impact it had. “They’ve said, ‘Since starting Stop and Imagine, we’ve been able to use our voice.’”
To raise awareness about the effects of bullying and to help those currently being impacted by it, Stop and Imagine TABYA is organizing a walk-a-thon to take place in 2018. Edwards decided to hold the event on the ninth anniversary of Nyimka’s passing, as she passed on January 9th, 2009. The walk is scheduled to take place on March 9th, and will be called the “Time to C.O.P.E. Walk-A-Thon”; the initials stand for Combining Other People’s Experiences. Edwards says that initially, she was going to name the walk after Nyimka, but decided she wanted it to be about everyone’s experiences with bullying and hardship. “Whether you’ve been bullied, have self-esteem damage, domestic, whatever it is, we want to combine all of that and we want to do a Time to Cope.”
For more information about Stop and Imagine TABYA and to find out how you can get involved with their anti-bullying initiative, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.stopandimagine.ca.