Speaker urges students to look for the prince within

By sue m. morgan
Staff Writer

Speaker urges students
to look for the prince within
By sue m. morgan
Staff Writer

JEFF GRANIT Mark Brown discusses his positive outlook at Old Bridge High School.JEFF GRANIT Mark Brown discusses his positive outlook at Old Bridge High School.

OLD BRIDGE — Just like Belle in the Walt Disney film version of Beauty and the Beast, people should strive to find a prince or princess within any beast they encounter in daily life, according to Mark Brown, a motivational speaker.

Brown, a former computer systems analyst who now travels the world speaking to teenagers about unconditionally accepting each other, stopped at Old Bridge High School’s east campus on Feb. 27 to rally students toward breaking out of cliques and making new friends.

Specifically, Brown, 41, tried to persuade his audience of freshmen and sophomores to look beyond the surface differences of physical appearance, ethnic background, athleticism and personal interests to get to know a fellow human being before judging them.

Prejudging others can have dire and even dangerous consequences when it progresses to bullying, intolerance, intimidation and violence, Brown said.

Such is the scenario in Beauty and The Beast when one character, Gaston, rallies his fellow villagers to bully the Beast because of his unsightly appearance and surly demeanor.

What Gaston and the villagers fail to understand is that beneath the Beast’s appearance and defensive surliness, exists a caring and affable gentleman.

"We don’t like what we don’t understand. In fact, we’re scared," Brown said.

Sometimes those who tease others only do so because others in their peer group do, he said.

"I don’t know who they really are, but I tease them anyway," Brown stated, referring to an excuse often voiced by children, teenagers and adults who bully others at school, work, or in the community at large.

In middle or high school settings, students are usually bullied due to physical appearance, religion, ethnicity, lack of athletic ability, or simply because they are shy and reticent, he said.

"They’re just different," Brown said, repeating another often heard excuse used by bullies.

Sometimes, bullies justify their actions by downplaying their severity, he said.

"They’ll say, ‘We don’t mean to hurt anyone. We’re just fooling around,’" Brown said.

Having been bullied himself when he was growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Brown said that he can still hear some of the taunting and teasing he endured 30 years after the fact.

Well-meaning parents and teachers sometimes use the well-known "sticks and stones" phrase to comfort a child victimized by bullies, he said, however, the taunting and teasing itself can be irreparable.

"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but unkind words will break my heart, and there is no surgery for a broken heart," Brown said.

The bucolic village portrayed in Beauty and the Beast is a metaphor for the school and the villagers represent the students within the building, Brown said.

"The school should be a safe place, a respectful place. It should be a good place to learn and grow," he said.

The "villagers" in the movie do not understand why or how the heroine Belle, who is at first repulsed by the Beast, learns to accept and love him, Brown said.

Sometimes students also do not understand why one of their associates might choose to reach out to rather than tease another student who is considered "different," he said.

Belle, through extraordinary circumstances, came to know the Beast and helped cultivate his positive qualities, Brown said. The villagers ultimately followed her example and learned to see the Beast as the prince he eventually transforms into. However, the villagers have to learn from Belle first, Brown said.

In the same way, students who choose to reach out to those who differ from others set a positive example, he said.

"Belle is the person that made a difference," Brown said.

When students, as well as parents and educators, approach him after one of his presentations, Brown said, he knows that he struck a nerve.

"The best part for me is the time in the hallway afterwards," he said.

Now residing with his wife, Andrea, and three children in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Brown said he often receives telephone calls and e-mails from students, parents and educators who have been influenced positively by his words.

"It makes it all worthwhile," he said.

Character education is one of the keys to resolving occurrences of bullying and school violence, Brown said.

"If we work together, we can certainly address these incidences," he said.

Brown’s appearance was made possible by the joint cooperation of the Old Bridge Human Relations Commission and the school district.