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Teen cancer survivor fights bullying with state policy petition
After beating back cancer three times in her short life, 14-year-old Kajmere Houchins has found another opponent to take on: bullying.
Houchins, a student at Illahee Middle School in Federal Way, has started a petition on change.org that calls for students to be included when their schools and school districts begin to draft anti-bullying policies.
Houchins' petition has already garnered significant attention. The Washington State Board of Education is considering the petition after she presented it to the board in September. That board is set to vote on the petition in the near future.
"The point of the petition is to give students a voice, to let them have a say in what affects them the most," Houchins said. "And that way they can actively participate in the policies that school boards are making."
In the meantime, Houchins is set to be the lead speaker for an anti-bullying assembly at Illahee on Oct. 15, where she hopes to let her classmates know that bullying is a serious problem for their generation — and that it's up to everybody to take part in solving the problem.
"I will have an anti-bullying speech, and then we have another speaker coming, and dancers coming," Houchins said about the Oct. 15 assembly. "The whole point of having the dancers and the speakers coming is so that kids can interpret (the topic) in the way they interpret things. Everyone understands stuff differently…(this) way, more kids get the message."
Bullying is an important topic to Houchins because the circumstances of her life have made her a target. Houchins has beaten cancer three times. Her first go-round was with neuroblastoma, and then she had to beat acute myeloid leukemia twice. That fight, combined with other factors in her life, has made kids perceive her in unfortunate ways.
"I've been bullied before. I've been bullied because I'm short, because my parents are gay, because I was in and out of school for cancer treatment, and kids didn't know I was out for cancer treatment," Houchins said. "I've been held back a grade, so I was bullied for that. And a lot of people around me are bullied…Bullying is becoming a bigger and bigger and bigger problem, and it's something that's tearing people down."
Houchins said the Oct. 15 assembly will cover all areas of bullying, including micro-aggression, discrimination, cyber-bullying, in-school bullying and harassment.
"That way, kids don't have a way to weave it in, and say, 'Oh, that doesn't count,'" she said. "It covers everything. It does count."
Houchins has a website, www.thepowercave.com, and associated social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter to help spread her message. A link to her petition on change.org, which already has 3,084 signatures, is available on her website. Houchins said her website is a safe place for teens.
"It's a website where teens can really learn to love themselves," she said. "One page is about…telling your story. Another page may be about how you can find yourself and different activities you can do. (Another page is about) social justice issues, getting teens involved."
For Houchins' mother, Julie Smith, watching her daughter grow up and continue to fight is something she's proud to experience.
"We're just really proud of the work she's continued to do," Smith said. "If she can help affect one life, today, tomorrow, next week, whatever it is, and she has the opportunity to do that… I think kids today have to deal with a lot of adult issues, unfortunately. Giving them some power to have a say in the outcome of their action or inaction, is really important."
Houchins' action is already getting her desired result, Smith noted, because the State Board of Education convened a youth committee to review her petition before it goes back to the board for a final vote.
"The whole idea was that kids had an opportunity to have some input on how things are done, and they're taking the petition and handing it over to kids," Smith said. "So, that's really neat."
For Houchins, the fight against bullying continues, and she's in it for the long haul, she said.
"Every time something goes wrong, somebody's bullied because of this, that or the other thing," she said. "It's one more reason to keep doing this."