Poet & Psychologist Teaches Tolerance At Benedictine Academy

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ELIZABETH-“Why are we so afraid of differences, and how do we learn to hate different people?” That question, posed by actor/psychologist/poet Dr. Michael Fowlin, guest speaker at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on Nov. 4, opened the door to students hearing a multitude of thought-provoking messages meant to challenge how they treat one another in their daily interactions.

Sponsored by the Academy’s Campus Ministry Department, the performance was meant to inspire students to “create a culture of peace and treat one another with respect within the school and the local communities while empowering them to be leaders in building a more just world during these difficult times,” according to Campus Minister Linda Michalski. The Benedictine Academy all-female student body was joined by guest students from the all-male St. Benedict’s Prep H.S. in Newark.

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In an astounding hour-long appearance, Fowlin combined straight talk and audience interaction with numerous vignettes that featured a cast of heart-rending characters he created to call attention to the pain those viewed as “different” in society suffer. Fowlin’s presentation dealt with the realities of bullying, disabilities, profiling, depression, and suicide. He also focused on how devastating the impact can be when remain silent while others are being abused in any manner.

“Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about another’s pain,” Fowlin stated. “Bullies are not the problem,” he noted, rather, “Zebras are the problem,” he added, pointing out that in the animal kingdom, zebras will simply stand around and watch another animal being attacked. “Know the difference between what you are supposed to do and what you need to do,” Fowlin pleaded. “Speak up!”

One of Fowlin’s characters, a macho athlete who presented himself as “cool” and totally “together”, yet hiding the fact that he was gay, pointed up the realities of the “masks we all wear”. “Most of you wear masks- funny, cool, popular- yet you don’t talk about what life is like around home,” Fowlin challenged. “My ‘front’ vs. the ‘real’ me… scared, gay, coward, depressed, a long-sleeved cutter…does anybody hear me?” the character asked. “I wish that for a day everybody could take off their masks and be real with one another,” he added.

Taking it a step further, Fowlin charged, “We don’t pay enough attention to one another,” and illustrated his belief through the eyes of another character, a wheel-chair bound young male with a severe physical disability. “I was invisible”, the character stated…“not one friend.” “I’m not ‘the guy in the wheelchair’, I am a human being, I have feelings, but sometimes my feelings are crushed. If all you ever see is my physical disability or wheelchair, you don’t know me. I’m beautiful,” he said.

Fowlin explored how he believes we are taught to find differences in people in our formative school years, as far back as first grade. Young children are instructed in simple classroom exercises to “find the things that are different and cross them out…get rid of them,” Fowlin reasoned. And so, when we perceive that people are different, “we cross them out”, Fowlin continued. “Some students get paid no attention every day,” Fowlin said.

“In our schools there are automatic responses, leaving kids out, bullying, emphasizing gender differences,” he explained. “As we get older, we live our lives on automatic behavior,” he commented. “Sometimes people get tired of it, and they walk to a bridge and jump,” he added. Speaking of the recent tragic suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi in New York, Fowlin stated that the San Francisco “Golden Gate Bridge” is the “number one suicide spot”. There have been only twenty-five survivors, according to Fowlin.

Each stated later that after they had jumped, they realized they had made a mistake and knew they “did not wish to die.” Fowlin also pointed out that one person who succeeded at suicide left a note that said,” I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me, I won’t jump.” “If you cannot acknowledge one of God’s creations, your life becomes meaningless,” Fowlin noted.

According to Fowlin, when older people were surveyed about what they would do differently if they could live their lives over, they said they would: “risk more, reflect more, and do more things worth leaving behind.” “We need to talk about the testimony of one’s life, not what one has collected,” Fowlin stated. And, he witnessed to finding the courage and resolve to persevere in his own life in the face of extreme emotional pain, revealing that his own “emotional map doesn’t come from happy places”. He noted he has suffered from anxiety, depression, ADD, being overweight, thoughts of suicide, and, sexual molestation. “But I chose life in the face of adversity,” Fowlin stated, also quoting Winston Churchill who said, “If you are going through hell, keep going”.

Chisom Emeana, a Benedictine Academy senior, felt Fowlin’s presentation was “powerful, touching and motivating”. It made her “more aware that other people do have feelings. We joke…it hurts others,” she said. “In reality, we really don’t know them the way that we think we do,” commented Emeana.

“You are all inherently beautiful,” Fowlin told his audience. He challenged the students to “smile at or say hello to at least ten people you don’t normally greet- you never know whose life you could be saving.” “Stand up- don’t be a zebra!” Fowlin added. “I charge you to go out and make others feel beautiful also.”

Actor/psychologist/poet Dr. Michael Fowlin, (pictured) was guest speaker at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on November 4. In an astounding hour-long appearance, Fowlin combined straight talk and audience interaction with numerous vignettes that featured a cast of heart-rending characters he created to call attention to the pain those viewed as “different” in society suffer. One of Fowlin’s characters (photo), a macho athlete who presented himself as “cool” and totally “together”, yet hiding the fact that he was gay, pointed up the realities of the “masks we all wear”.

Dr. Michael Fowlin’s performance at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on November 4 evoked many emotions from the audience of students, faculty and staff. His insightful characterizations sparked laughter and tears, and moved the audience toward compassion and soul-searching. Students from the Academy and from St. Benedict’s Prep H.S. in Newark (invited guests) along with faculty, are pictured enjoying one of the lighter moments of the presentation, meant to inspire students to “create a culture of peace and treat one another with respect within the school and the local communities while empowering them to be leaders in building a more just world during these difficult times,” according to Benedictine Academy Campus Minister Linda Michalski.

Benedictine Academy junior Ariana Taveras (left, foreground) of Newark was deeply touched by Dr. Michael Fowlin’s performance at the all-female Catholic college prep high school on November 4. Taveras felt the presentation was “very moving…his words really hit home”. Fowlin combined straight talk and audience interaction with numerous poignant characterizations which dealt with the realities of bullying, disabilities, profiling, depression, and suicide. “Why are we so afraid of differences, and how do we learn to hate different people?” Fowlin asked.

Dr. Michael Fowlin’s touching characterizations opened the door to students experiencing a multitude of thought-provoking messages meant to challenge how they treat one another in their daily interactions. Fowlin is pictured portraying a disabled young man who suffers extreme emotional anguish because of the insensitivity of others. “I was invisible”, the character stated…“not one friend.” “I’m not ‘the guy in the wheelchair’, I am a human being, I have feelings, but sometimes my feelings are crushed. If all you ever see is my physical disability or wheelchair, you don’t know me. I’m beautiful,” he said.

Students from St. Benedict’s Prep (photo) were totally engaged in Dr. Michael Fowlin’s performance at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth on November 4. As invited guests, the students heard Fowlin focus on how devastating the impact can be when we remain silent when others are being abused in any manner. “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about another’s pain,” Fowlin stated. Pictured (l-r) are: Calvin John, Angel Milette, Isaiah Del Rios and Anthony Nunez, all of Newark.

Dr. Michael Fowlin (back row, center) posed with Benedictine Academy Campus Ministry students following his performance at the all-female Catholic college prep high school on November 4. The presentation was sponsored by the Campus Ministry Department

Dr. Michael Fowlin (center) with Benedictine Academy seniors (l-r): Megan Hely and Geraline Arroyo, both of Union; Chisom Emeana of Hillside; Chelsea Odufu of Newark; Sara Pereira of Elizabeth; Alicia Onacki of Roselle; and Ludmilla Perez of Elizabeth.


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