Superheroes often build on tragedy and adversity to drive them to become avengers against evil and saviors of the world. According to DC Comics, an 8-year-old Bruce Wayne witnessed the death of his millionaire parents at the hands of a villainous robber. This induced a young Wayne to gather skills, fine-tune his body and create a vehicle equipped for the future role of the crime fighter known as Batman.
The Greenbrier Valley has its own Batman equipped with a Batmobile who uses his troubled past as a vehicle to teach children four noble principles: 1) never give up; 2) always do the right thing; 3) help other people; and 4) never be a bully. Points that have the potential to turn youngsters into superheroes in their own right, especially in today’s environment consisting of an epidemic proportion of teen suicide attempts, rampant drug use, bullying and other damaging factors.
Recently, Batman spoke to 8th graders at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School aiming to change their mindsets and challenge them to be better humans heading into high school.
Removing his classic mask with hood and bat-shaped ears to speak as himself, John Buckland, he asked the students to take a self-inventory, “What kind of 8th graders have you been?”
Buckland shared his grueling past enduring physical, emotional and sexual abuse, which lead him to addictions, failed relationships, violent crimes and incarceration in a maximum-security prison.
“The inspiration of the idea [for Heroes-4-Higher] came to fruition after my return home from Iraq as a firefighter with the Department of Defense,” Buckland explains. “Upon returning home it seemed the news was saturated with stories of youth in crisis. I was determined to help make a difference in all of the troubles that our youth face in their lives. Issues of bullying, drugs, broken homes, abuse of all types plague our children. These issues are very personal to me, as I was a victim of many of these issues myself growing up.”
Following two suicide attempts, he is still alive to carry the message, “It’s not about the mistakes, it’s what you do with that mistake.”
Mistakes, Buckland shared with EGMS students, concerning armed robberies, when he “put a gun to teenagers’ heads and took their money,” during which the “bullied became the bully.” He became a “tough guy, mean as a snake.”
Buckland described mistakes made in relationships when “I used girls to feel better about myself.”
And he told of the time when the mother of his young son ran down the street with the one-year-old boy and flagged down a car to get in with two strangers, in an attempt to escape Buckland’s fury.
“How scared must she have been of me to get into a car with strange men?” he asked the 8th graders.
“It was because of these struggles that the hero characters, especially Batman, along with extensive therapy and support, gave me the inspiration I needed to overcome and then reach out to help others through their pain,” Buckland explained. “I learned through Batman to turn my pain into personal empowerment and use that to help others overcome their own pain.”
Buckland requested the EGMS students begin owning their mistakes by apologizing to those hurt by their actions, inactions, words, or social media posts.
Citing the extraordinarily high number of youth suicide attempts, Buckland told the West Virginia Daily News that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks those figures down as “suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24” and for “college-age youth and ages 12-18.” (CDC WISQARS)
CDC further explains that “More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,703 attempts by young people grades 9-12. If these percentages are additionally applied to grades 7 and 8, the numbers would be higher.”
If youths’ struggles weren’t already dire, the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted additional strain on youngsters.
According to the CDC, “Adolescents aged 12-17 years accounted for the highest proportion of mental health-related [emergency department] ED visits in both 2019 and 2020, followed by children aged 5-11 years. Many mental disorders commence in childhood, and mental health concerns in these age groups might be exacerbated by stress related to the pandemic and abrupt disruptions to daily life associated with mitigation efforts, including anxiety about illness, social isolation, and interrupted connectedness to school.”
More information can be derived through, the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBS), “a survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that includes national, state, and local school-based representative samples of 9th- through 12th-grade students. The purpose is to monitor priority health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth in the United States.”
Heroes-4-Higher is an organization that began on September 4, 2012. The name is based on the principle that it teaches four points to take the children, the real heroes, to a higher level. The mission of H4H is to inspire children to be the hero. The outreach is active in drug rehab facilities, youth behavioral health programs, foster care systems and grief counseling, churches, schools, college empowerment events, entire community events, the city mission, domestic violence shelters and programs, and anywhere else people need hope. More information can be found at John Buckland – Heroes4higher (get-card.com).
For those experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Both are free and confidential and the person will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in their area.