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Minister seeks to address bullying

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was a situation that was all but unbearable. It even got to the point in which he considered killing the person who was making his life miserable.

It was his faith, and the determination to get an education, that got him through.

The Rev. Theodus Drake of Second Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a native of Worth County, was bullied as a child. Telling people of his experiences, while difficult, is part of a movement to get the topic of bullying more openly discussed in public.

When he was an eighth-grader, Drake was teased constantly by another boy in his class that had been held back for two or three years.

"It was a guy that had given up on graduating, so he became a nemesis," Drake said.

"He was relentless."

The points the bully picked on included Drake's clothing and poverty status. Drake said he had large eyes as a child, so the bully's nickname for him was "Eyes."

"When I woke up, he was on my mind," Drake recalled. "There was one time in which I actually thought about killing him.

"I saw a pipe on the street and almost took it and hit him on the head. When I thought of the impact that would have on me and my family, I realized it wasn't an option."

Throughout his eighth-grade year, these encounters burdened Drake to the point that it prevented him from doing well in school.

Fortunately, that burden proved temporary when his family moved to Dougherty County.

"My salvation was that I changed schools," he said. "From that point on, I enjoyed school.

"The best thing that happened to me was that we moved."

The experiences with this bully still impacted Drake to some degree. Drake continued to track the bully up until the day that he died. Since then, he's also been careful not to get into any physical altercations.

"I swore to myself that it would never happen again," he said. "It was like putting a 96-pound weakling up against Superman.

"I tend to avoid hostile situations as much as I can because I'm afraid of what I might do."

Thanks to his siblings, he was relatively protected from other bullies.

"There were other bullies, they just didn't target me," Drake said. "I had a sister ahead of me, and (some of the other bullies) were friends with my sister, so I was not a target for them."

As a former bullying victim, he said he doesn't feel able to give much advice to children. However, he does stress a message of awareness to parents and authority figures.

"They (parents) need to be sensitive to the fact that bullying does exist," he said. "There are elements around them (children) that are threatening. It can be very intimidating for mild-mannered children.

"Make sure they have an outlet, and that if they tell, they don't perceive it as raising their threat level."

An outlet is something Drake said he wishes he had access to at the time.

"The authorities were not proactive, but reactive," he said. "All they could do was take the kid out of school for a few days.

"In my own mind, I thought (telling) would raise my threat level. It was not an option for me. I'm not sure if the authorities could have done anything."

This is an experience that, statistics show, can easily cripple an individual. But, in the end, it was perseverance and the desired livelihood of an educated man that got Drake through to the other side.

"I couldn't let one person keep me from (getting an education)," the minister said. "I knew it was my only way out.

"Maybe that is the thing that kept my faith going. It may have been the path that led me to become a minister."

Keeping the faith, alone, has also been an important step in his continued recovery.

"I prayed everyday," he said. "My parents were very religious. We stayed in church all the time. I connected with God at an early age.

"That was the thing that made me reconsider doing something crazy."

At the same time, he does want to be active in making sure today's children don't have to go through what he did.

"We need to move this into public discussion," Drake said. "We need to have other people tell their story.

"I definitely commend the conversations that are being made. We need to move to identify possibilities (on how to deal with the problem) to give children the mind to think that reporting it is an option."

Jeff Sinyard, now the Dougherty County Commission chairman, had never told anyone about his experience with a bully when he was an eighth-grader until an interview with The Albany Herald.

"He was a couple of years older than me," he recalled. "I confronted him, he backed down and went away."

This bully ran with a fairly rough group who kept picking on Sinyard by attacking his pride, which he now feels was the bully's way of trying to get attention. It was on his mind all the time until, one day, he finally confronted the situation.

"I went into the gym, got my feet anchored and told him we need to do whatever we need to do. I don't want to put up with you anymore," Sinyard said.

It was an ordeal that lasted roughly three weeks and was never an issue again. He ended up taking away a life-long lesson from it.

"It taught me to deal with something upfront," Sinyard said. "I've taught my boys that.

"I wasn't excited about standing up to him, but I was scared not to. I couldn't go through that."

In light of his experience, Sinyard's advice to today's children is to find a way to confront the situation.

"I've told my children that if you can't confront them, you need to tell someone," he said.

Given that this is still a big issue, this is not just something he feels his children need to be protected from.

"We need to be there for these people when they come to us (to tell about a bullying experience)," the county commission chairman said.

"This is a community issue."