COLUMBIA, SC — Tianna Walker is only 17 but she held the crowd of some 100 at Finlay Park Sunday afternoon spellbound.
“My whole life, I’ve been bullied,” she said. “I’ve been called every name you can think of. . . . I want the word to get out about bullying, so maybe I can save someone’s life who thought about committing suicide, like I did.”
Then as she began telling about how God intervened and prevented her from taking her life, she broke down and cried, unable to go on.
Walker, a senior at Brookland-Cayce., was a speaker at Columbia’s eighth annual commemoration of National Youth Violence Prevention Week
Later, in an interview, she said fellow students — boys and girls — had begun viciously taunting her in kindergarten.
“I never told anyone. I thought it would get better,” she said. In recent years, she finally told a guidance counselor who confronted a girl who had been verbally abusing her. “The bullying stopped the next day,” she said. Her advice to other young people: speak up.
Columbia’s recognition of Youth Violence Prevention Week was begun eight years when one city youth shot and killed two others.
“We had young people committing homicides in our city,” said Columbia City Council member Tameika Isaac Devine. “We didn’t lose just two lives – we lost three, because the shooter will spend the rest of his life in prison. . . . We can’t have any more young people lose their lives to violence.”
Stacey Haynes, an assistant U.S. attorney in Columbia, urged parents and grandparents to “have a dialogue” with all young people they know.
“Talk to them about gun violence. Talk to them about what they need to do when they’re confronted with someone who has a weapon,” said Haynes, who has sent perhaps hundreds of South Carolinians to federal prison over the years for serious firearms violations.
“Your kids need to understand that guns aren’t toys. They play a lot of video games, and there’s reset buttons they push to start all over. They need to learn that in life there is no reset button,” Haynes said. She urged the crowd to lock their guns in a safe place where kids can’t reach them and to get trigger locks.
“Young people need to learn how to use their most important weapon — their brain,” Haynes said. “That’s the weapon that will get them safely home.”
Mayor Steve Benjamin, who has three school-age children, said America has lost more people to home-grown gun violence over the years than the country has had killed in action in the 20th century wars and in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
“We have a problem in this country,” Benjamin said. “If we’re going to solve it, it will require each and every one of us working every single day to wrap our arms around our children and the children of our community.”
Columbia police Sgt. Jim Reed, a school resource officer, read a pledge to the crowd that included the words: “I agree not to bring a gun or any other weapon to any event. If I see a gun or any other weapon, I will alert the authorities.”
Taylor Hicks, 16, a junior at C.A. Johnson High School, said an atmosphere of violence at C.A. Johnson has lessened because of after-school health and science programs that keep young people occupied.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.