Mary Luz Perez, a Colombian immigrant, spent her childhood being kicked and beaten by bullies. They threw her down a flight of steps and hurled insults at her.
“It was so bad I couldn’t eat in the cafeteria,” she said. “They threw food at me and pulled my hair. They pulled my hair a lot. So me and my sister ate in the bathroom just to get away.”
The New Rochelle High School freshman watched that scene reenacted in her film i am Julia…caught in the bully’s lair, shown in the Whitney Young Auditorium at New Rochelle High School. The movie, which she wrote and produced, is based on her own childhood experience in New York.
New Rochelle High School Dignity Act Coordinator and House President Michael Hilderbrand told the packed auditorium, “Bullying, discrimination and harassment are a strong influence on today’s society. We are here to make a change.”
New York State attempted to combat bullying by signing the Dignity for All Students Act into law on Sep. 13, 2010. The legislation took effect on July 1, 2012. The act states no person on school property or at a school function (from grades K-12) is to be harassed or discriminated against. New Rochelle High School is actively participating in this new law. The Board of Education appointed Hilderbrand the Dignity Act Coordinator. His job is to listen to and address any students’ reports related to bullying.
Principal Donald Conetta said this program is important for students, teachers and parents alike.
“We want to continue to raise awareness on the part of everyone and to see the needs of students—both who fall victim to harassment and bullying and the perpetrators—and come up with ways to address their needs.”
Mary Luz Perez, the guest speaker for New Rochelle High School’s “No Place for Hate” program, made her own personal statement against bullying. When she became a legal citizen at 16-years-old, she changed her name to Marisol and ultimately became Marisol Carrere after her marriage to Christian Carrere in 1986. She wanted to purge the bullied Mary Luz years from her memory.
“I hated that name. I was tormented by that name,” she said.
Carrere said she was saved by the arts. She used acting and writing as a platform for her feelings. She turned those tragic experiences into inspiration and then into i am Julia, a movie she says she will always hold dear to her heart.
Like Carrere, the New Rochelle nineth graders used art to fight against discrimination. In the second phase of the program, the students created a “Resolution of Respect and No Place for Hate Mural,” which will be hung on the beams inside the high school.
Carrere lives her life wanting to inspire others who are struggling the way she struggled.
“I feel like that’s my mission now,” Carrere said. “Make change and bring peace.”