Lucero: Let my slain brother's story prevent more bullying
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The televised image of the badly beaten face of an immigrant, the victim of a hate crime in the Hudson Valley, and the more recent story of a 12-year-old Florida girl who killed herself after being bullied, really got my attention. Stories like these make me realize there is so much to do, so many young people yet to educate about the horrible consequences of bullying and hate crimes.
Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the death of my elder brother, Marcelo Lucero, who was walking with a friend in Patchogue when he was attacked by seven teenagers intent on assaulting Hispanic immigrants. He is always on my mind, and his memory inspires me to work as the outreach coordinator for the Hagedorn Foundation, which promotes social equity across Long Island through several programs, to visit schools to talk about bullying and hate-crime prevention. But I need more than his inspiration. I need teachers to see the importance of this conversation and to invite me to their classrooms.
Before Marcelo was killed at age 37, I lived in Patchogue and was practicing the trade I learned in my native Ecuador: welding. In that job, I worked with my hands and didn't have to do much talking. I enjoyed a simple life of work, travel and friends. Then, after my brother's death, community leaders and teachers started inviting me to talk, beginning at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue. They wanted me to speak about diversity, about my brother, and about my experiences as an immigrant.
Speaking in front of large groups -- and in English, not my first language -- was a big, big change for me. Just imagine being a child in kindergarten, and suddenly you're dropped into college. That's how I felt. But giving these talks is important -- not just for the students, but for me. It's one of the ways I cope with the loss of Marcelo: talking with people, telling my story.
When I speak to students -- some of them the same age as the young men who attacked and killed my brother in Patchogue -- I'm trying to clear away stereotypes. And I want them to see that bullying and hate crimes may seem like fun to bullies, but often lead to disastrous results.
In these conversations, I tell students that, when I was growing up in Ecuador, I was not much different from what they are now. I show them images of the town of Gualaceo, where I grew up. I display an image of its impressive church and say, "This is where I went for catechism." I share a photo of the bridge across the Santa Barbara River and tell them, "This is the place I used to go fishing and swimming." Through the images, I try to help them understand that, beneath my brown skin and my Spanish accent, we have a lot in common.
"I'm a regular guy like you guys," I say.
Later in my talks, I get around to the last day of Marcelo's life, the night he was stabbed on a Patchogue street, left bleeding his life away. Marcelo died that night. The young men are alive, but they all went to prison. Life can never be the same for them, for their families or for my family.
So I work every day to prevent another hate crime, to stop another victim from being bullied, another teenager from going to prison. The young men almost certainly regret their actions that November night. But no matter how much you regret something, you can't take it back. My goal is to make kids think about never doing something that will ruin their own lives, as well as the lives of others. I'm pleased that after my presentations, students have come to me and said they feel stronger and more able to stand up for themselves.
I am grateful to the teachers who have invited me to speak to their students, but there's so much left to do for future generations. I urge other teachers to remember: The long fight against bullying and hate crime begins in the home, but it has to continue in the classroom. So, invite me to your classroom and let me help you in that fight, with stories of Marcelo, of Gualaceo, and of seven young men with ruined lives.
Joselo Lucero is the outreach coordinator for the Hagedorn Foundation of Port Washington.