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September 16. 2012 9:59PM

North Country women share their stories about bullying


North Country women joined together for a unique photo shoot to share their individual stories and raise awareness about bullying. Taking part in the group portrait are Angelia Cross, left, Jennifer Howe, Heather Marchand, Brittany Labonville, Angel Bryant, Amanda Parker, Randi Fellows, Lisa Chase, Kendra Curless, Kasha Ramirez, Denise Weston and Denise Hill. (COURTESY)

COLUMBIA — Several North Country women are looking the problem of childhood bullying right in the eye.

The “Don’t Judge a Book, Learn My Story” project features portraits of 20 women from the Colebrook area along with their personal stories of judgment and bullying.

Photographer Angelia Cross of Columbia said the project started in hopes of raising local awareness of bullying.

“Nobody enjoys being bullied and it’s such a big problem,” she said. “We need to teach people to take the time to find out what’s going on with this person.”

Cross had heard about a similar photo based anti-bullying project in Oregon, and a friend, Jennifer Howe, put her in contact with women who had stories to tell.

“Some have had problems their whole life and now as they’re older they’ve come to terms with it or learned how to deal with it,” she said. “Some of them it’s just something that happened and people judge her.”

Cross created individual portraits of each woman, draping them in sheets and posing some holding books. She also did a group portrait featuring 12 of the women.

“The sheet, it was sending the message ‘Don’t judge me because of what I’m wearing or what I look like — we’re all the same’,” she explained.

The photos are combined with personal stories on the project’s Facebook page, titled, “Don’t judge a book, learn my story” and a new website at www.learnmefirst.com.

Cross said the project has a general message for all and a specific one for victims.

“Everybody has a story – take the time to find out why they are the way they are,” said Cross. “And that you’re not alone and it’s OK to ask for help.”

Lisa Chase of West Stewartstown said she was picked on in high school for being poor and overweight, but that never really bothered her.

Her Facebook story tells a more recent tale of rape and the permanent brain damage her son suffered after abuse from a babysitter she trusted.

“As an adult, and with my son’s situation, I get bullied a lot about that,” she said in an email. “People judge me for putting my son in that situation.”

She told her story as a way to prevent similar tragedies and help others feel OK with talking about their own struggles.

“Every one of us judges, it is our instinct, we can’t help it,” Chase said. “So I guess I just want people to think before they speak.”

The group is creating a book of the women’s photos and stories, and looking into doing a calendar. The next phase of the project will feature men and their stories, and possibly visits to local schools.

“I don’t expect to change the world,” Cross said. “But I would like to send the message to take the time.”

kgarofalo@newstote.com


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