By Rob Glidden
Author and civil rights activist Arthur Miller spoke about bullying and taking responsibility to Southington High School students. After a few years of visiting regularly, he has become a familiar face to the school community.
“I try to talk about the greater good,” he said. “If you tell stories, you can connect with them. It helps them identify with the message.”
Miller, a friend of SHS teacher Jan Zaccardo, had many stories to tell. He is the author of “The Journey to Chatham – Why Emmett Till’s Murder Changed America” and was a childhood friend of Emmett Till, the young black boy who was brutally murdered by racists in Mississippi. The two murderers were acquitted by a jury and later, protected by double jeopardy laws, sold their confession to Look Magazine for a lucrative deal.
The notorious incident inspired many people at the time, including Miller, to join the burgeoning civil rights movement. He described Till’s murder as “the ultimate bullying.”
“Bullying is barbaric and it is barbaric not to stand up to it,” he told the students. “The way to stop bullying is for it not to be empowered by other people giggling.”
He told the crowd that even in the midst of his civil rights campaigning, he often felt regret for never reaching out to a girl in his school who was bullied. He has tried to track her down for years with no success.
In a departure from his previous appearances at the school, Miller brought along a guest – Victor Perez, a former gang member who spent over 20 years in jail. He talked about the role bullying played in his struggles.
“I got involved with the wrong people because of peer pressure and because I wanted to be accepted,” Perez said. “That caused me a lot of pain and took away many years of my life.”
In one visual exercise, Miller pulled out a $100 bill and asked if it would lose any worth if it had insults written on it. The students agreed that it would not, and Miller said the scenario was the same for kids who have been bullied.
He also told them that he had distaste for the phrase “children are the future.”
“During the civil rights movement, it was young people who fought,” Miller said. “The country was changed by folks about your age and this country needs you right now.”
The students had positive words about his message.
“It was really good,” said senior Rebecca Allard. “I like the way he talks about bullying.”
Senior Shawna Sycz commented that “he told really good stories. It was very inspirational.”
Miller also works as a counselor for troubled youth within inner-city areas and stories concerning his work resonated with senior Emily Sheehan.
“It was great,” she said. “It’s cool the way he helps people. If I was troubled, I feel like he’s someone who could really help.”