Last week the Forester brought you Sequoia Henry’s story on being bullied. This week we talk to his parents about the effects it’s had on his family life.
HUNTSVILLE – Watching their happy-go-lucky son turn into a ball of raging anger, seemingly overnight, was startling and confusing for the parents of Sequoia Henry. They didn’t understand where this sudden anger was coming from.
He came home after his first day of high school bragging about how much he loved it and that it was the best thing ever. But that feeling quickly changed. Sequoia became a target for a group of bullies within the first two weeks of school, after defending another student.
“It’s been hard watching my boy lashing out,” said Judith Blanchette. “We had such a beautiful connection, conversation and openness and then all of a sudden it was just this unseen anger.”
While she knew her son had some issues at school with being bullied, she didn’t realize it was happening on a daily basis or that he felt like a fool every day at school, until the bullying reignited this year in Grade10.
“We thought we nipped it and then it went on throughout the year. But Sequoia thought if he ignored it, it would go away,” she said. “He told me some things, but this made sense now… where all this aggression was coming from, why he was releasing it at home.”
Sequoia started hurling vulgar insults at his mother and fighting with his siblings. He and his older brother, Ty, would often get into fights about how Sequoia was beginning to treat his mother.
“At home he found he could let his emotions out, but he didn’t know how,” said his father, Brian Henry, who lives in Lakefield. “I think they were coming out aggressively, trying to push back and maybe have a voice and use his voice where he thought he could. Unfortunately sometimes we hurt those we love.”
Blanchette agreed. Initially, she was blaming herself, thinking she was failing as a parent.
“The values that I’ve raised my children on, he didn’t have those values, he wasn’t displaying those values in our home; the (lack of) respect, swearing, lashing out,” she said. “Now it makes sense … he was so angry inside.”
Seeing the emotional and physical effects bullying has had on their son has devastated both parents.
“It destroys me,” said Henry. “It’s pretty hard having children who are coming of age. You hope that you prepare them and instill all the right things in them growing up and then you kind of set them off in the world and things like this happen and you realize you can’t always protect your children, where I wish I could. I wish I could protect him, I wish I could make it stop.”
Blanchette panics when she doesn’t know where Sequoia is or if she can’t get a hold of him.
“My fear is that these kids won’t wakeup, they won’t feel the love and that they’re going to pummel my kid to death,” she said through tears.
Learning about their son’s suicidal thoughts crippled Sequoia’s parents.
“It’s heart-wrenching because my son is such a beautiful person, but I know he values his life more than that,” said his mother. “That shows with this courage (to speak out).”
When Henry learned his son had been thinking about suicide for the last year and a half, he broke drown crying and held Sequoia, before whispering in his ear.
“I just let him know I breathed the first breaths into his lungs and it wasn’t his responsibility to take that away, it wasn’t his job to take his last breath,” he said through more tears and a shaky voice.
Sequoia was born at home, but a complication meant his father had to perform AR and then CPR to make his heart beat.
Henry has made Sequoia sign a pact stating he’s not allowed to harm himself in any way without first talking to his father. He doesn’t want to see the bullying change Sequoia from a positive kid to a negative person.
“People don’t realize the power of words and how much destruction we can do with our words and I don’t want it to change him,” he said. “He loves school, he’s got goals, he’s got hopes and he’s got dreams and I don’t want him to lose those. He’s too young for that. I don’t want to see him succumb to depression, or drug and alcohol abuse or anything to try and numb the situation. I don’t want to see him do something drastic that gets him in trouble and changes his life forever. I want all the best for him. It’s text book bullying and it leads to something drastic.”
Henry struggled with his own battle against bullying while attending Huntsville High School in his youth.
“I was bullied when I was growing up and then I fought back and I became the bully for a while,” he said. “I bullied people well into my mid-20s and then realized what I was doing and had to backtrack … One day I attacked the person who was always harassing me and then I actually enjoyed the fear, I enjoyed the power I got from doing that so I inflicted it on other people. It took a total of about four years to go from being bullied to being a hardcore bully myself. It came back full circle.”
Sequoia’s parents are proud of their son for fighting back without using violence.
“He’s doing it in such an exceptional and peaceful, yet powerful way. He’s revealed himself to the core,” said Henry.
Blanchette has been trying to work with the school to bring the bullying to an end for her son. She’s been in the principal’s office numerous times; she’s done research online and read books on bullying. As much as she would like school authorities to be more vigilant, she recognizes the school can’t do it all.
“I feel they did the best they could, but I really feel that there should be an officer in that school,” she said. “A presence of authority there that will make some difference because that’s the reality of ‘I could get in trouble for this,’ not just a slap on the hand or get expelled.”
She feels strongly that it’s the teachers and students who have the potential to make the most impact by making bullying an unacceptable behaviour.
Teachers need to stop it in its tracks and not act like it’s a right of passage. And students need to stop being bystanders.
“The principals are dealing with so much, petty things, big things, they’re not going to make the difference. It’s going to be these kids that make the difference and the teachers. There are three principals and 50 teachers.”
Henry said bullying is a culture at the high school, not just a trend.
“This isn’t something new,” he said. “It’s a culture that’s been bread into the school and it has to be broken down on all levels. We need more community involvement.”
He also wants to see the police take bullying more seriously and uphold the law.
In next week’s Forester, we’ll discuss bullying with school officials and the police.
“My fear is that these kids won’t wake up, they wo