Ten years ago, Jennifer Ehrentraut’s family suffered an unimaginable loss when her youngest cousin, Tyler Clementi, took his life during his freshman year at Rutgers University after being relentlessly bullied for being gay. Over this last decade, Jennifer has spoken at events, in documentaries, and to schools about Tyler’s story and the tragic consequences of bullying.
On Wednesday October 28th, Jennifer Ehrentraut of the Hawthorne Pride Alliance spoke via live stream and local network television to deliver a message to Hawthorne residents about bullying to commemorate National Bullying Prevention month.
Michael Stracco, Chair of the Hawthorne Pride Alliance, made his opening remarks before the small gathering including Mayor Richard Goldberg, Chairperson Joanne Graziano of the Municipal Alliance, and Joe Ross of the Stigma-free Alliance, as well as a few other members of the Hawthorne Pride Alliance. Stracco addressed the members of the audience--both in person and streaming online--by highlighting the purpose of Jen’s speech as well as her experience with the subject.
“Tyler is here spiritually, emotionally, and educationally, and has put a face to the effects of bullying. Throughout Jen’s presentation tonight, she will give us insight on how to combat bullying in our schools, in our business, in our organizations, in our town and now more than ever, in our world,” Stracco said.
As Jen took to the podium, she began by highlighting the technological revolution we are currently experiencing as the pandemic has required many people to take to social media to connect with friends and family to maintain social distancing guidelines. However, she noted that, while technology has been a saving grace in many ways during these times, “On the other hand, social media and the world wide web can host some pretty harsh comments, and be a breeding ground for harassment, intimidation, bullying and hate.”
While sharing personal stories of how her family coped with the loss of her cousin and the role that bullying played in Tyler’s death, Jen also shared the heart of her message: “I’m here to remind us all today, that no matter how alone you may feel, or how hurtful a comment can be at the time, there are always plenty of people that truly care and are here for you.”
She gave advice to the audience to be kind to oneself, to friends and family, and to strangers whenever possible. She spoke of participating in the “opposite of bullying,” which is to be proactively kind and compassionate toward others. Despite the many negative feelings the topic of “bullying” evokes, Jen’s speech was one of education and hope for a kinder, more accepting society.
The night ended with a Q&A where Stracco, Mayor Goldberg, and Jen answered questions about the rise of bullying and contention in our society today, namely during the heightened stress of the upcoming presidential election. Jen summed up the sentiments of all three by explaining the relationship between her Democrat father and Mayor Goldberg, a Republican: “Even with varying different political views, there was more that united them than divided them.”
The Hawthorne Pride Alliance looks forward to hosting similar educational events such as this in the future. Stracco ended the evening by highlighting upcoming events and fundraisers that will benefit the LGBTQ+ community, the details of which can be found on the alliance’s website and Facebook page.