Tempest Smith: Ten Years On
Article ID: 14508
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,153
Times Read: 3,407
RSS Views: 19,373
Type of Passage: Death
Date of Passage: February 20th. 2001
Author: Liam Cavanagh
Posted: October 2nd. 2011
Times Viewed: 3,407
She was Wiccan and only twelve years of age before she took steps to stop the bullying, the harassment.
I was only fifteen when the bullying stopped – except I’m still here.
My mother offered to take me out of school, put me into a new one. I was already half way through high school and I couldn’t bear the thought of having worked so hard for two years already and knowing how the school and system worked – and having the bare minimal friends I did – and suddenly starting from scratch, with nothing.
I went back the next year, and my school life was never the same. I ended up having the time of my life, friends, the Seniors, the Proms, the cool kids; I was no longer a slave to the library on my lunch and recess breaks because I had no one to hang around. I think it was my confidence, my drive that really saved my life. I decided early on I didn’t like the situation, so I went about changing it.
I was one of the lucky ones.
It was around the same time that I became aware of Tempest Kayne Smith, a young girl from Michigan who took her own life because she couldn’t bear the weight of persecution she was subjected to in her short life. It was a case that broke my heart then infuriated me all at the same time. I was far away from Lincoln Park – I was in New Zealand – nonetheless it still hit very close to home.
Bullying is an issue that doesn’t discriminate, and we didn’t think it would happen in our community all those years ago. More so, we didn’t expect it from someone so young.
So widespread, we have almost normalized bullying as something that kids just have to deal with, something they have to experience in school; it's character building after all. Worse is that it’s growing out of control, and increases with the progression of social networking and media, and those mobile phones.
One morning not too long ago, on television they were showing a YouTube video of a young Australian – Casey Heynes from NSW – who was being punched repeatedly by this one guy. After several hits – he blocked some of these even – he cracks; in a shocking twist he gets in there, grabs this little bully, picks him up, and hurls him down to the ground. In an interview he was asked why he did it. He simply said he was all alone, lost his friends; no one came to help him, and had endured four years of it before he cracked, before bravely admitting he had contemplated suicide.
I’m not normally the type for violence – he and the bully were both suspended – but this kid made me cry. I wish I were able to stand up for myself the way he did.
He is just another example of some of the lucky ones. Sadly, Tempest was not.
Denessa Smith is Tempest’s mother, a very loving, honest and spiritual woman. She lost Tempest February 20, ten years ago on a cold winter’s morning, in her own bedroom.
Denessa also lost her heart.
Annette Crossman, Denessa’s partner, made the discovery and scrambled to save Tempest’s life. She grabbed a knife and cut the scarf that held Tempest. Tempest was rushed to hospital, however had suffered significant brain damage due to asphyxiation, and the decision was made to turn off life support.
Many parents who lose their children to such tragedies often are not privy as to why their child would take their own life. Tempest however, had a diary. It was from this diary we are able to learn why she left us on February 20. She was being bullied at her school because she was somewhat shy, dressed alternatively to her peers, and a follower of Wicca.
However, even as a follower of Wicca, it seems the Goddess couldn’t persuade her to stay.
Tempest wrote about her life, in personal detail in her diary her mother gave to her, and seemed liked any other normal kid beginning their teenage years: infatuations with boys, their pet dog, and trips away, and her family who she loved so very much. Tempest had a good home life, was very talented and musically inclined.
However she also wrote about her tormentors, the harsh words they would use, and the things they would say, the Christian hymns they would sing, the things they would do to her that would ultimately lead her on a path to her own self destruction – suicide.
Tempest’s story was one that mirrored my own in many ways; our circumstances weren’t too dissimilar. The nation I come from doesn’t have a strong religious backbone; subsequently I escaped some of the harsh criticisms for being the young Wiccan I was ten years ago. However, when those particular kids came around, they really went to town on me. They were certain I was going to Hell, and that I was casting spells around the place, and no one likes Witches. It sounds silly, but it’s hard when you’re a kid.
Then there was the bullying for the fact I was a very happy kid, had a very good academic record, and came from a good family who brought me up well. It doesn’t sound like much but bullying can have a profound influence on people; it did on me, leaving ghosts that I still deal with to some extent today.
It was this tragedy that affected me so much however, that prompted me to do something to help, as a way of giving back. It also began a short but treasured moment I got to share with the Tempest’s family.
A friend and I decided to use our skills and media savvy minds to create a website as a memorial and testament to the young Tempest Smith. My friend Rachel and I were both practicing Wiccans ourselves, and thought we could inspire and help other young Wiccans, Witches and Pagans in similar circumstances. Since it was going to be an important project, we decided to contact Tempest’s mother Denessa [via The Witches Voice from memory – I think they had a page up for her at the time] so we could create the best possible message, and website that would be best for Denessa’s young daughter.
For a while, Denessa and I exchanged emails and I remember her being so surprised that total strangers on the other side of the world would do something of this undertaking. She was quite taken back I felt, but absolutely loved the idea and proceeded to tell me her daughter’s story, and her own even. I felt very privileged to be a part of the project. Denessa was so grateful. She sent Rachel and I care packages which was something that was very much unexpected. I remember speaking to her about it on the phone and she told me she wanted to do it because she wanted to show gratitude; gratitude to those strangers on the other side of the world doing something like this for Tempest, and of course, Denessa herself.
One of the things she sent me specifically was a VHS of a taping she did with the Ananda Lewis Show, where she got the opportunity to talk about Tempest’s story and raise awareness which I felt was incredibly brave. As well as that was a beautiful note from her that just expressed her continued gratitude. I have kept this in my Book of Shadows ever since.
Unfortunately due to unforeseen events, I lost contact with Rachel; the website was shut down, eventually I got caught up in life subsequently losing contact with Denessa in the process.
Forward ten years later.
The world hasn’t let up. The kids are getting worse. The bullying is getting worse. The whispers of cruelty still hang in the air. And it seems hopeless.
In the last ten years a lot has happened. Ten years ago our world changed in many ways and will continue to do so. As a community, the Pagans have made much advancement, changes. We have had many successful lawsuits; our religious paths have seen more legal validation, most recently Druidry in the UK; fallen soldiers can have a Pentagram on their gravestone; our pagan religions appear to be becoming more mainstream as they continue to grow in large numbers; there are less and less Hollywood Witches around, and more Wiccans on television, most recently HBO’s True Blood.
For the family of Tempest Smith, there have also been advancements in the last ten years.
A year after Tempest passed away, Denessa filed a lawsuit against the school district. While Tempest was alive, Denessa was aware of the bullying and both of them did voice their concerns with school authorities with no reasonable outcome and it was this that became the principle argument of the suit. She later went on to win that lawsuit, though didn’t stop there. She went on to become a rather vocal advocate for anti-bullying in schools and religious tolerance. She also embraced the Pagan community, becoming a leader within.
She went further in order to keep Tempest’s legacy alive, and stop other pointless deaths by founding The Tempest Smith Foundation, an organization that serves to Teach, Educate and Motivate Parents, Educators and Students in Tolerance. Although Pagan in faith, it serves to help anyone of any denomination, and also has a scholarship program.
All of this seems a huge achievement in the face of absence and loss for Denessa Smith, a courageous woman who by far will teach the Pagan Community one of the biggest lessons of its lifetime; a lesson that can benefit the mundane community just as much as ours. That sticks and stones may break people’s bones, but words can influence so much. It is a firm belief of mine that we become what we’re told. Particularly as young children, and teenagers finding themselves in the world – but we know kids’ words can be harsh. Our words are wiser.
It is our responsibility to make sure our children – Children of the Goddess and the Serpent Banner – are able to learn the lesson Tempest presents here, and live full lives. A responsibility we owe to Tempest, her family and her mother.
As nature would have it, sadly Denessa passed away two years ago. She leaves her partner Annette Crossman and a son.
It should be duly noted that Annette Crossman continues Denessa Smith’s work today; work Denessa was so passionate about. Its work that is also very important to me – I’ve had to deal with a family member in my own unit in the same vein.
Ten years on from Tempest’s passing, it’s a time to reflect. A time to cast a spell; On The Witches Voice Wren writes ten years ago on Tempest, “There can only be one explanation: a spell has been cast upon the United States.” She was right; it wasn’t cast by any of the Witches residing in the US. Ten years on however, I think there is another spell being cast, but one that’s being cast by only a few of us; It’s a spell that all of us can join in with. You don’t need anything fancy; just bring your attention, passion, will, and desire. We will and can succeed.
Witches can’t create magic for nothing, remember?
Our community has the tools and ability to deal with this issue; we’re Pagan for one, but we’re also natural activists – we’ve been fighting for quite some time for acceptance – so let’s direct our magick in a new direction; our kids and our schools. They are our future after all.
We need increased awareness of bullying in our schools, awareness that each human life is fragile, and so much influenced by the words of others. We need to increase self-worth in our young children, and we need to break the cycle of destruction that besieges the children of today. Any effort in anti-bullying programs can make a world of difference, and if they don’t work, we create new ones; it’s just that simple. When we find one that works, we keep on making more. We need to teach and tell our children they are enough, and not just every now and then. We need to tell them every single day.
We need more role models in schools, and increase their leadership roles within the school community. We need to write more emails and letters to our Senators and other Government Officials. Children are faced today with even greater pressure and challenges in this digital age, as we didn’t have Facebook or iPhones ten years ago. We need to break this cycle in our kids. We also need more interfaith forums, increased awareness of ALL religions in our schools – not just some - and other institutions. This, like bullying is something we can’t keep pushing back.
It needs attention now.
For Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans it’s an important time, now more than ever to come out of the broom closet. We need to be the role models our kids so desperately need; we need to be there for them. So dust off that broomstick, and get your wands out; we have work to do.
Realistically, we all know what needs to be done. We just need some momentum. Denessa’s loss is also our loss, and we can’t let it be in vain. She embraced our community, our principles and values wholeheartedly. Now it’s our turn to embrace her principles and values with just as much heart.
There are many violent storms in our world, but it is a mistake to say Tempest Smith was one of them; she wasn’t by any means. Rather, Tempest was a beacon of light within a storm we still find ourselves in today, and she’s still pointing in the right direction.
Goddess forbid, we lose that light again.
For more information on the Tempest Smith Foundation, you can visit their website, http://www.tempestsmithfoundation.org if you want to do anything further.
I'd like to credit the Tempest Smith Foundation; also;
The Detroit News. Unfortunately they no longer archive the original article that was published, however it is maintained at this website:
I'd also like to thank Denessa Smith for sharing with me those ten years ago. May you and Tempest be guided by the light.
Copyright: Liam Cavanagh
Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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