While most parents breathe a sigh of relief as their children settle into the routine of school, some are gearing up to fight a silent battle. As the year unfolds, parents and students may find themselves wondering how to deal with a bully.
Having stood on the front lines of schoolyards across the country, author Gabrielle Ford knows all too well about the pain of bullying. In her book, Gabe & Izzy; Standing Up for America’s Bullied, she lays out a plan for students, parents, and educators to combat this growing epidemic.
She suffered in silence
A victim of taunts, name-calling, and even physical aggression, Gabe has courageously written her story because she, like many, suffered silently. As a young girl, Gabe loved to dance and dreamed of one day dancing on stage.
But not long after her 13th birthday, the teen learned she was suffering from Friedreich’s Ataxia, a degenerative nueromuscular disorder that results in slurred speech, loss of coordination and balance, and muscle weakness. Too afraid to disclose her disability to her peers, she spent her high school years being harassed and bullied for her physical differences.
Determination drove Gabrielle to finish high school, but her despair didn’t end there. She gradually lost her ability to walk and became confined to a wheelchair, her dream of being a professional dancer dashed, her time after high school isolated, as friends left for college and careers.
Finding her voice
Two years out of high school, with her hope and strength declining, a special friend came into Gabe’s life: Izzy, a droopy, long-eared Coonhound who would eventually became more than just a pet. Izzy ignited a passion that would give Gabrielle Ford the voice she needed to speak out against bullying.
“Dogs are loyal, always there for you, warm and cuddly,” writes Ford. “A dog doesn’t judge you by your looks, or by what you can or cannot do.” The unconditional love Izzy showed Gabe was the companionship she had been searching for.
Not long after bringing her dog home, Gabrielle discovered Izzy had developed a debilitating liver issue that could lead to paralysis. Gabe began holding fund-raisers in her town to help pay for Izzy’s surgery and care. Their story caught the attention of local and national media. After being featured on The Today Show and Animal Planet, Gabe and Izzy began taking their anti-bullying message to schools across the country.
Ford's book is a quick and worthy read for parents, educators, and students alike. The book offers a message of hope, and includes resources to help create bully-free schools. Inserts include steps to take if you are a victim of bullying, if you are a parent of a child being bullied, or an educator aware of this issue. Most importantly, Gabe encourages students being bullied to stand up for themselves and not assume the bully will just go away. Victims of bullying must find someone they trust and reach out to that person.
No longer able to dance, Gabrielle Ford has found herself on a different kind of stage. After years of hiding the pain of bullying, and with the help of some special four-legged companions, she is openly sharing her story and performing beautifully.
To learn more about Gabrielle Ford’s work as a national anti-bullying spokesperson, pick up her latest book, Still Dancing.
For more bullying resources, go to gabeandizzy.com or StopBullying.gov
Jennifer Boren is a Collierville Schools librarian who has worked in education for 13 years. She aspires to one day add published novelist to her resume. Read her blog, gracingmemphis.com.