The grieving father of a gay teen from La Grande plans to walk across the United States to spread the message against bullying.
Joe Bell is scheduled to begin Saturday, winding his way across the country at 15 to 25 miles a day.
His son Jadin, 15, hanged himself at an elementary school play structure in January. He died two weeks later in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland. His family had decided to take him off of life support after tests showed no brain activity.
Jadin was openly gay. A sophomore at La Grande High School, he complained about name-calling and bullying. He had reported it to a counselor. And the family believes he was driven to suicide by bullying.
Telling Jadin’s story to as many people as possible — especially young people — seemed like the right thing to do, Joe Bell said.
New York is on Bell’s itinerary. “Jadin wanted to someday live in New York City,” he said.
He recalled that some of the most exciting days of Jadin’s life were the ones he spent in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., while visiting historic sites with an eighth-grade group from La Grande.
“That trip was the highlight of his life,” said Bell, his eyes filling with tears.
Bell left a longtime job to make this walk. He said the change will be good for him.
“I needed a break. I was ready; I was looking for something different,” he said. “I just wish, however, that I was doing this under different circumstances.”
He said he’ll stop along the way to explain to community members why it’s important not to humiliate or intimidate people because they are different. A foundation, Faces for Change, was established in Jadin’s memory to promote antibullying programs.
Bell said the hardest part of his journey will be being away from his family, though his son Joseph and wife, Lola, plan to meet him regularly on his journey.
Some people are telling Bell his journey will prove too challenging for him. “They tell me ‘You can’t do that,’” Bell said.
Bell responds by noting that tens of thousands of women and children made a much more difficult journey when they came to the Northwest on the Oregon Trail. He believes his walk will be a piece of cake by comparison.
“We are so spoiled,” Bell said.
His walk will also be a testament to modern medicine. Bell had major back surgery and double knee replacement surgery in 2010. He hopes his walk will inspire people who have had joint replacement surgery by showing them what they can do. “I may be the first person to walk across the United States with two artificial knees,” he said.
Bell said he knows he will feel as if Jadin will be with him throughout is journey.
“When a child is bullied, there are usually a lot witnesses. Not doing anything is not acceptable,” Bell said.
For more information, go to www.facesforchange.com.