DIXFIELD — Brandon Baldwin believes some words should carry warning labels.

“Words are powerful. Things coming out of our mouths carry incredible power,” he told students at Dirigo Middle School on Tuesday morning during No Name Calling Week.

Baldwin, a member of the Civil Rights Team Project for the state’s Office of the Attorney General, is bringing that message to elementary, middle school and high school students throughout the state.

Dirigo Middle School’s Civil Rights Team, which sponsored his appearance, is one of 200 such teams in the state.

Words related to ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, disability, gender and religion were targeted at the assembly.

When youngsters were asked whether they had heard racial, religious, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disabilities slurs, most students stood up, indicating they had.

“There are issues that happen right here at Dirigo Middle School,” Baldwin said.

The Office of the Attorney General deals with hate crimes, he told students, citing three examples that happened in Maine schools, including a Mexican American who was beat up because he was Mexican, swastikas spray-painted near a Jewish girls’ home, and an assault on a gay man.

“Words very much matter. They can escalate to violence,” he said, citing two fifth-grade students in other states who killed themselves because they were repeatedly called gay.

Policies and laws from the school level to the federal level exist to try to eliminate hateful words and actions.

But Baldwin said it was important, too, to know that anyone who uses demeaning language looks hateful and nasty.

“I grew up in a small rural town (Skowhegan) and to some we look small-minded. This state is better than that,” he said. “Calling people names may look rebellious, but if you want to be rebellious, take a stand against using that language.”

Seventh-grader Aireanna Robinson, a Civil Rights Team member, said even if 10 people at the assembly wanted to stop bullying after Baldwin’s presentation, that would make a difference.

Eighth-grader Miranda Hunt said other civil rights activities are taking place at the school all week.

Each day, a potentially harmful word is chosen to be eliminated from students’ vocabulary.

On Tuesday, that word was “stupid.”

“We will tell people that using that word could hurt,” she said.

Another event calls for students getting to know others through a lunchtime “mixed up day,” where youngsters don’t sit in their usual places or with their usual friends.

School counselor Kate Clough coordinated the day with the help of materials from the Office of the Attorney General.


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