Anti-bullying speaker offers lessons at Kittanning Junior High School

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It was what Mark Brown refers to as a “daddy moment” several years ago that brought him to Kittanning Junior High School Tuesday afternoon.

A renowned speaker for fundraising company Great American Opportunities, Brown remembers sitting around his television with his wife and kids, watching Disney's animated “Beauty and the Beast.” One scene in particular lent itself to his “daddy moment,” or a chance to teach a life lesson.

“The movie has three main characters: Belle, the Beast and the bad guy – Gaston,” said Brown. “In one scene, Gaston grabs Belle's magic mirror, holds it up and says, ‘Show me the beast!' as Belle tries to say, ‘He's kind, he would never hurt anyone.' But Gaston spreads some nasty rumors, saying, ‘He'll come after your children in the night.' And who do the townspeople believe? Gaston.”

Brown said there isn't much separating Gaston and the angry mob from those who start rumors and everyone who believes them. While the villagers in the movie brandish torches and arrows, Brown said students instead use words as their weapons.

“We don't like what we don't understand,” said Brown. “And when you're in school, being different is often felt a lot more deeply. Nothing spreads faster than a junior high rumor.”

During his 45-minute anti-bullying presentation, Brown, who was born in Jamaica, often bounded across the gymnasium stage, using his thick accent and deep voice to mimic the characters he talked about, much to the joy of his young audience.

“The goal is to have kids think about the power of their words, the impact they can have, to really encourage them to change the way they relate to those who are not like them,” Brown said. “I talk about the fact that maybe kids don't realize what really goes on inside someone else's mind and heart.”

At one point during the assembly, Brown asked anyone in the audience to stand if they knew anyone who had ever been treated like “the Beast.”

Nearly every student stood.

“Then you have to ask yourself,” Brown said. “Are you being Gaston?”

Greg Toth, area representative for Great American Opportunities, said students always react positively to Brown's message and he was excited to bring the 1995 winner of the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking to Armstrong School District.

Brown spoke earlier in the day to what was described as an enthusiastic audience at Ford City High School.

“Mr. Brown has a fantastic message about the power of words,” Toth said. “I think everyone can relate to his stories and the way he tells them.”

Kittanning Junior High Principal Kirk Lorigan agreed.

“I think you find bullying in a lot of schools and a lot of people pass it off as ‘typical kid behavior,' ” he said.

“And although kids might hear about the right way to treat others from their mom or dad or their teachers and principals, a lot of times, kids just think that's what adults are supposed to say. They need to hear it from someone like (Brown). I think messages like his certainly have an impact on our young people.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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