Ralston High School senior Sonia Garcia Martinez was surprised by the number of important people milling around the Thompson Alumni Center on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus Friday, but she knew why they thought the occasion warranted their attention.
They may be mayors, police and fire chiefs and school superintendents, but they're also parents.
"They have kids who go to school and see these things happen and there is that communication between the parents and their child and they see what's going on," Garcia Martinez said.
Metro area civic and education leaders and students from several area school districts declared Friday #BeKind Day, based on an initiative led by Ralston Public Schools Superintendent Mark Adler and his wife, Joni, after their son Reid committed suicide in January 2016 after being bullied by another student. The campaign seeks to combat cyberbullying, promote mental health awareness and foster communication between children and adults.
Mark Adler called the day a celebration and thanked metro area leaders for joining forces to bring something positive out of something tragic.
He also exhorted those in attendance to be proactive in promoting kindness.
"We must be intentional in our work so we can build up and protect every person in our schools, our city and our state. Our investment is small but the dividends will be endless," Adler said.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert read a proclamation, copies of which were signed by those in attendance, that encouraged city leaders and the people they serve to promote healthy communities. In her remarks to the crowd, she praised the Adlers for leading the campaign.
"Their decision to make their private life so public shows us how we can all impact others," Stothert said.
Millard Public Schools Superintendent Jim Sutfin, who served as the master of ceremonies, introduced the Adlers as the "heart of #BeKind" and praised their proactive message.
"Today we want to change the conversation from don't to do," Sutfin said.
Garcia Martinez said she has lots of friends and teachers who are very supportive and have changed her for the better. Her focus this school year will be to help special education students and new students from other countries feel more welcome in high school life.
"I don't think it should just apply to bullying," she said of the #BeKind movement. "There's a lot of other things that are going on besides bullying that it can be applied to."