Come to “Brunch and Bowl to Strike Out Bullying” at the Sawgrass Lanes on Sunday, July 9. National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment (NVEEE) is organizing this second annual networking event to raise money to send 30 high school students to the Peace Ambassador Leadership Summit (PALS).
While the event at Tamarac’s bowling alley is sure to be an afternoon full of fun and games, the non-profit’s mission is a matter of life and death.
NVEEE is a bullying and suicide prevention organization.
Their website includes some striking data: LGBT youth are two to three times likelier to attempt suicide than are their straight peers, and 80 percent of gay and lesbian students say they have no adult support at school.
Lauren Martinez, 19, was one such student, until she came under the mentorship of NVEEE’s founder, Jowharah Sanders. Sanders is an LGBT community member and successful South Florida businesswoman.
Now a sophomore at the University of Central Florida, Martinez came out to her mother this June during Pride month. She recalled, “I’ve always known to an extent. Back in third grade, I thought it was just, you know, a ‘little girl crush.’ But being exposed to all the terminologies of social justice and identity at PALS, I realized there was a term for me: bisexual. This was exactly how I felt. This made sense.”
Martinez said she came out not just for herself, but also for her younger cousins and all the kids at PALS. “I wanted to be a role model for everybody.”
This year, the PALS summit will be held on the campus of Florida International University. Students aged 14-19 can work in a safe space to develop leadership skills to challenge bullying that they have seen or experienced themselves. Teenagers also benefit from forming meaningful friendships, Life Skills workshops, a Career Day, and assistance in the college scholarship application process.
In LGBT meccas like Wilton Manors and South Florida at large, LGBT adults can sometimes take their physical safety for granted. Meanwhile, Sanders is frequently reminded of the stark reality that most LGBT high school students don't enjoy such privilege.
“NVEEE has had gay and trans students be beaten up while walking home from school. As mentors, LGBT adults can help their mentees understand, ‘That is not always going to be your life. There are safe spaces. You will be okay. It gets better.”
Mentorship undoubtedly changes lives.
Kevin Jaxon, a 56-year-old Wilton Manors resident, retired last week as Vice President of Information Technology with a Fortune 500 company. As a teenager in the late 1970’s in Jacksonville, Florida, Jaxon learned to code under the tutelage of an older gay man. Not only did his mentor teach him computer programming, but he gave him self-esteem and helped him find his first job in the industry. They remained lifelong friends.
“NVEEE is exactly the kind of organization that I am looking to support in my retirement,” Jaxon said. “It enables the next generation to feel proud of who they are, as well as who they will become. Our LGBT community has always depended upon intergenerational mentorship.”
“Strike Out Bullying” will be held at Sawgrass Lanes on Sunday, July 9 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person, and lane sponsorship is $350 (which includes bowling for 5 friends and 10 free drink tickets). Each lane sponsored sends one student to the PALS summit.
For more information on the event, visit NVEEE.org/strike-out-bullying