Using imagery and specific life situations including his parents’ divorce as a child, being a victim of bullying, drug and alcohol use as a teenager and young adult, and the death of his mother, father and brother, Mero told The Daily Tribune News following the presentation he wanted to reach students through relatable experiences, not just statistics. For example, he presented a “Death List,” featuring the names of numerous friends, including professional wrestlers, who met premature deaths due to the use of drugs and alcohol or poor decision-making.
“We become what we surround ourselves with,” Mero told the crowd, referring to friends as well as substances. “... When people say alcohol doesn’t lead to other drugs, they’re wrong.”
Through his presentation, which included skits, dancing film and photos, Mero also addressed a topic that has received national attention over the last several years: peer bullying and consequences such as self-harm and suicide. To emphasize the reach of such acts, Mero played a video that showed photos of teenage suicide victims and testimonials from relatives.
“So many times you as young people try and take on the world by yourselves ... [and you become] like a volcano,” Mero said.
Sophomore Brandon Hams said the presentation was powerful and struck an emotional chord.
“His family story about how he lost all these people around the same time, that made me really emotional. It was just a really strong story,” Hams said.
He also said the aspects of Mero’s presentation regarding teen suicides stemming from bullying was an eye-opening experience.
“[The presentation] just opened a lot stuff, considering the way you talk to people can really affect them,” Hams said. “[For the teens in the presentation], getting bullied really caused them to commit suicide, so that really makes you think about the way you treat people.”
Mero said one of the motivating factors in continuing his mission to reach students is the amount of letters he receives from students following his presentations.
“I get a lot of letters that just say, ‘My parents don’t care, I do this and I do that and they don’t care,’ and kids actually want boundaries ..., it’s just when they’re free they do things and they get involved with things like cutting and burning; we’re seeing kids who are hopeless,” Mero told DTN. “I am screaming from the rafters we are losing our next generation, kids are going through isolation, loneliness, depression ..., suicidal thoughts.”
He continued, “When I was in school you kind of knew who the school bully was and you stayed away from that guy, but today you can wake up in the morning and go get on ... whatever social media account you have and read how ugly and stupid and worthless you are, imagine starting your school day like that; ... that’s when kids start feeling hopeless and they start believing the lies about them and then they go to negative behavior.” Mero said.
Principal Steven Butler said it was important to have speakers like Mero not only to reach out to students, but faculty as well.
“... One of the things that comes with the pressure we have in schools now with curriculums and test scores and all those types of things, it’s sometimes easy to push away the caring aspect of dealing with kids because during class, you’re hitting the content of your curriculum in order to meet testing goals and those types of things,” Butler said. “Sometimes you have to stop and take time because before we’re students, before we’re athletes, before we’re anything we’re people and we have to take care of each other as people first.”
Mero came to Bartow County through the help of local businesses as well as Lake Point Church. He will be speaking today at Emerson Elementary School and South Central Middle School. He will speak at Woodland High School Friday as well as on Sunday morning at the school’s Performing Arts Center, which will serve as the site for Lake Point Church. The Sunday service and presentation, which Mero said will include his personal testimony, will begin at 11 a.m.
For more information on Mero, visit www.championofchoices.org.