Baumhower: Boy bands, bullies and BellaWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. ” — Walt Disney.
For Maumee native Devin Fox, no truer words have been spoken.
Walking into a middle school brings back many memories, and emotions. I can remember the nerves and angst of trying to figure out who I was, while trying to blend in. For most children, the sixth, seventh and eighth grade years are the toughest.
My 11-year-old is a sixth-grader at McCord Junior High. Earlier in the week, she came home and announced After Romeo, a “famous boy band” was coming to her school to perform. She had no idea who they were, what they sang, nor did she really care: After Romeo was coming to McCord Junior High.
I fully comprehended that there had to be a reason why a public school would allow a national recording act to visit and address the student body. I discovered the Los Angeles-based band was booking appearances across the country on their “Anti-Bully Tour.” I had no idea who this After Romeo was and I suspected that 99 percent of the students didn’t either. So I decided to go back to school and see about a boy… a boy band.
After Romeo was everything you would expect in a modern-day pop group. They had the perfectly coiffed hair, skinny jeans, expensive-looking tennis shoes and the baby faces that makes 13 year-old girls scream.
The energy in the middle school gymnasium was thick, filled with anticipation from girls wanting to see boys and boys happy to be out of class. Could this be the next One Direction? Will the next Justin Timberlake be in the house? Everyone was about to find out.
There were two major reasons why I decided to go witness a Thursday mid-morning concert: the issue of bullying was going to be discussed and one member of After Romeo was from Northwest Ohio.
Devin Fox would be a junior at Maumee High School if he had followed the path of his six older siblings, but he did not. Devin is pursuing his dream of being a singer. He was in a LA for a music workshop where he met the rest of the guys — Drew Scott, Blake English, T. C. Carter, and Jayk Purdy — in early 2013.
The group’s 45-minute performance was equal parts of singing, dancing, self-promoting and hosting a discussion about bullying.
The various members of After Romeo shared personal stories of bullying they experienced with Devin’s making the most impact. When Devin was 12 years old, he released a music video with the same production company that was responsible for Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” As her video went viral for all the wrong reasons with over 100 million views on YouTube, his video was released shortly thereafter. The reaction and comments were devastating, with one person calling him the “fat albino Bieber.” His YouTube video garnered over 600,000 “dislikes.” I was curious and googled “fat albino Bieber”; his music video and image was the top result.
Devin Fox was bullied so badly online, he stopped singing.
When the blond-haired, 17-year-old boy told the packed house the decision he made five years earlier, silence fell over the previously loud room for the first time since the assembly began. A connection was made, students were listening.
After Romeo offered solutions and advice on bullying for the hundreds in attendance. I imagine it’s the same message that is constant in most schools today, but coming from cute guys who can sing and dance, the words were actually being heard.
The highlight of the pep assembly involved four students and a teacher who shared their personal bullying stories and what they did to overcome their struggle.
A seventh-grader named Isabella, a recent transfer from another school, told the group and her fellow students the reason why she moved.
“I didn’t fit in. I couldn’t be me. I was told to kill myself,” confessed Isabella.
Silence again. She overcame her bullying by switching schools and starting over. The decision couldn’t have been easy. It was at this moment when After Romeo and everyone else found out something about this recent transfer — Isabella could sing.
It only took Isabella singing a couple of notes before the group’s manager reacted in a way few even noticed. Jonnie Forster had seen this anti-bullying message hundreds of times before, sitting in the stands behind the group. About 15 seconds into her impromptu performance of Rihanna’s “Warrior,” I watched Mr. Forster stand up, walk over and sit down right in front. He then pulled out his phone and started recording what was happening.
I know she won’t understand what she did, but Isabella made a boy band manager… move. She also moved every person that heard her words, both sung and spoken.
Isabella’s life changed when she finished her final note and handed the microphone back. She won.
After Romeo is proof that if you tell a group of middle-school students that five guys who can sing, dance and are chasing a dream might be the next One Direction, they’ll believe you. The effective self-promotion and belief that they were witnessing something great also made the students a very captive and accepting audience for the anti-bullying message.
After Romeo is hoping the young crowd heard their lyrics. I hope they heard everything else.
After Romeo is performing a concert Oct. 25 at the Lucas County Rec Center. If you are a parent of a child who loves One Direction, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber or Radio Disney — this $10 concert ticket is a perfect investment in his or her world and heart. Concert-goers will be on the ground floor of support for a boy band with a positive message — with one kid from Northwest Ohio.
You can point to the group at any time during their concert and tell your child to pursue their dreams, to believe in himself or herself no matter how big or how difficult — because a kid from Maumee is on that stage chasing his.
I don’t know what the future of After Romeo will hold, but I’ll be cheering for them.
For tickets and more information about Saturday night’s concert, click here.