"Freedom from bullying is a human right. It is a human right because everyone is equal no matter what. It is also a human right because no one has to fit in or be like others to be treated the same way."
You probably won't find these words in a universal treatise on human rights anywhere. At least not yet. But 8th grade student Merna Youssef is well on her way. Youssef, 13, has been recognized by the St. Louis Coalition of Human Rights as the first place winner of the Missouri Human Rights Essay Contest.
Entitled, "How Does Bullying Affect the Right to Personal Security?" Youssef describes a narrative in her essay that spans generations and even continents. Her family arrived from Egypt when she was 9 years old. "Bullying does not only happen between people. It happens between towns, cities, states, borders, it even happens between continents. We see that because people or places sometimes think they are better than others, so they try to show of(f) or take over," she wrote.
"I think that’s why she was able to articulate it so much better,” Northeast Middle School Principal Kim Brandon said. "It was so personal, you could tell she was writing, writing from the heart."
Youssef writes about how hard it can be for someone who might not understand a language, who can easily be made to feel worse about it by a peer who decides it to be funny.
In an interview, Youssef told Patch people who bully are only doing it to be popular, and, in her own words, to show "they’re not the only sad person."
Parkway Northeast devotes special attention to spreading the anti-bullying message. There are educational visits by police, a student survey which helps administrators better decipher where bullying is taking place and how students can feel more connected to adults in the building so kids can better advocate their own cause and address problems.
I don’t think kids are any meaner than they used to be," said Assistant Principal Bill Senti. "I think our kids are good kids, I really do, I just don’t think they’re aware of the impact that their words and their actions are having on other people.
Youssef will be honored for the impact her words and actions have had, during a December 10 event at the Missouri History Museum.