“If I can be the vessel that saves one child, then my job is done,” Mitman said.
Along with his partner Chuck Ellenberger, and friends Scott Fullerton and Clint Joste, Mitman has helped organize an anti-bullying town hall meeting at 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at the First Unitarian Church on Elm Street in Youngstown, behind Wick Park. The event will have speakers, a reception, and at 8 p.m. will conclude with a candlelight vigil.
Mitman said the event is a start. He has formed a group called Citizens Against Bigotry and Prejudice, and organization designed to combat bullying. He said it is a serious matter that is costing young lives.
Mitman’s commitment was set in stone when he was asked to attend the candlelight vigil for Jamey Rodemeyer, the 14-year-old Williamsville North High School student who took his life in September as a result of bullying.
“I stood on a podium to speak at the event. It was two-foot square,” Mitman said. “It overlooked a sea of 3,500 lit candles.”
He said when the crowd got down on their knees and began to weep, it touched him deeply. When he left the vigil for Jamey, he felt he had to do something.
Mitman had established the Citizens Against Bigotry and Prejudice over a year prior to his New York trip. He began the nonprofit anti-bullying group to be a voice on the issue. It wasn’t until his New York trip that he really kicked it into high gear.
He knew better than most just how rough it to be on the receiving side of bullying. Mitman said he is gay, but didn’t openly discuss it. As a young student in public school, he said he was constantly having his head smashed into a locker, or was shoved while walking down the hall. He walked five miles to school because he was afraid to ride a bus. He managed to finish school with lower-than-desired grades, but he found adult life to be just as challenging.
He said he enjoyed working with youth and had even joined an Austintown church where he was asked to be youth leader in 2006. When church officials found out he was gay, they demanded he leave the church, that such a sinful man does not belong in the position he held, he said.
It bothered him, and three days later, he admitted he took an overdose of drugs.
“I was very fortunate to have survived,” Mitman said. “I was told I took enough drugs to take a full-grown horse down.”
That event turned his life around and brought on the mission of organizing a group. The Citizens Against Bigotry and Prejudice was formed and has since been working in New York state to get laws on the books that hold a bully responsible for the actions that can lead to a suicide. The law, which could be passed by the end of the month, carries steep fines and jail time for those convicted of bullying.
Mitman said Ohio still has no laws to hold the bully responsible for actions taken in person or by cyber-bullying. He hopes to be a vehicle for change on that front.
“Ever since the 2006 incident, I felt the need to be an activist,” Mitman said. “At the vigil for Jamey, the spiritual side came to me and said, this is what I need to be doing.”
Since the New York teen suicide, four more young people have taken their lives because of bullying. On Oct. 14, a 15-year-old Canadian boy took his life after being bullying. Mitman said it is a serious situation.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a study they concluded in 2010, 19.9 percent of school youth in grades nine through 12 have reported being bullied at some point over those four years,” Mitman said.
He said the number could actually be higher when factoring those who were afraid to report it. He said it is probably closer to 41 out of every 100 students has been bullied. And while many of the situations involve gay students, it is not confined there.
“It’s not just a gay issue,” Mitman said. “Many straight students are bullied as well. Bullying happens every day, every hour, and everywhere. It has no boundaries.”
His bigger concern is cyber-bullying, which can have as devastating outcomes as physical bullying.
“Through extensive studies, multiple organizations have found that bullying is taking root over the internet,” he said. “Legislation needs to be put in place that if a student is cyber-bullying another, that student will be held accountable for his or her actions.”
Mitman hopes the town hall meeting next month will began a move in Ohio to bring about legislation geared to stopping bullying in the state. He welcomes comments at his office 330-953-3347 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier correspondent
Jason Mitman of Austintown said he has dedicated his life to ending bullying and saving young lives. He is holding information from a recent case where a young Canadian boy named Jamie Hubley committed suicide that was linked to bullying.