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Letters raised to highlight differences

BrEnn Wickheim, front, shown with her brother AvAn, has launched a anti-bullying campaign, called “Raise a Letter.” - Britt Santowski
BrEnn Wickheim, front, shown with her brother AvAn, has launched a anti-bullying campaign, called “Raise a Letter.”
— image credit: Britt Santowski

How many of us have witnessed bullying and done nothing about it? Twelve-year old BrEnn Wickheim is included among that number.

Very upfront in a speech to the Raise A Letter campaign, BrEnn spoke her truth: “Last summer, I witnessed a former friend bully an innocent little girl. I was so shocked by what I saw, I could not act at the time. I have never forgiven myself. Now I am acting.”

It was this specific event, watching a four-year-old friend being targeted by a bully, that spurred BrEnn into action last December, and resulted in an anti-bullying campaign called “Raise a Letter.”

“By raising a letter in the middle of my name, … I am intentionally making myself different because that is what most kids get bullied for. I also do it because I have the right to be different and I want to use that right. The letter that I raise, ‘E,’ stands for empathy. Empathy means to understand how other people feel. We need to understand how people feel before we can overcome and stop bullying. This means bullies and victims alike.”

She is slowly spreading the word (raising the letter), and she has the support of South Island Distance Education School (SIDES), and the Office of the Prime Minister has expressed an interest in the campaign.

Besides promoting the Raise A Letter campaign, BrEnn has also become an intervener, someone who takes action on witnessing bullying (instead of being the bystander).

In another instance, BrEnn witnessed a child being verbally bullied.

“There was a friend and she was being bullied and bugged by another girl in the group, and when she wouldn’t stop I decided this wasn’t right, so I stepped up and I said, ‘Hey, can you stop because this is making her upset, it’s making me upset, it’s not making anyone happy’.”

The outcome? “She backed off pretty quickly,” said BrEnn, adding that she was quite surprised by the effectiveness of her intervention. “I honestly thought she was the type of person to just call me a name and continue doing it, but she didn’t … she backed off.”

When asked why she thinks people generally don’t step up to intervene, BrEnn spoke with understanding and insight.

“I think it’s fear, fear of being laughed at and being bullied themselves. I think they’re scared … of not being accepted, and (of) failing.”

When asked what she as a home-schooler knows about bullying, BrEnn made the point that bullying does not begin and end in the school yard. It’s pervasive and reaches all social activities, many of which BrEnn is engaged in.

Her mother, LauRa (Respect) Barker and her siblings VaiLe (Learn) and AvAn (Acceptance) have followed BrEnn’s lead. Her father, Al, is still trying to figure out how not to appear like he’s shouting out his first name, on modifying the second (of two) letters in his name.

When it comes to looking a bully straight in the eye, BrEnn Wickheim has no fear. And through her campaign, she’s encouraging others to celebrate their differences, and to stand for something.

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