Osage County Anti Drug Community Action Team (OC-ADCAT) Education Committee Chairperson Charlotte Bellsmith said she is eager to offer a virtual presentation during Red Ribbon Week, which will be …
Osage County Anti Drug Community Action Team (OC-ADCAT) Education Committee Chairperson Charlotte Bellsmith said she is eager to offer a virtual presentation during Red Ribbon Week, which will be observed Oct. 23-31 with the theme, “Be Happy. Be Brave. Be Drug Free.”
“I’m disappointed we will not be able to have a parade because of COVID,” said Bellsmith. “The kids really enjoy that, but it’s just not feasible this year. However, we are looking forward to a great presentation via Zoom designed to educate youth of all ages about the dangers of drugs.”
Leading up to the event, OC-ADCAT has been busy, with Red Ribbon Week bookbags for every elementary student already delivered. Three nine-foot banners with the theme are being signed by elementary students and will be displayed between the columns at the Osage County Courthouse during Red Ribbon Week. Three Rivers is covering the cost of banners.
In seeking a motivational speaker for the virtual event, Bellsmith said there were a lot of considerations but in the end, it came down to finding someone who could relate to students of all ages. The Missouri Department of Mental Health is paying for the virtual presentation by singer-songwriter and lead vocalist Jess Angelique with the music collective, "NextEra Music."
“She does a great program for all ages,” said Bellsmith. “She is upbeat, positive for the wee ones, with music, laughter, and an anti-bullying message for upper elementary, vaping for middle school, and underage drinking for high school students.”
Bellsmith added that all of these issues are important, especially when they can be addressed early.
“We are seeing that underage drinking is an ongoing problem and vaping by high school students is something we should be talking to kids about before they get to high school,” said Bellsmith.
Bullying is another significant problem in all grades, she noted, which is one of the reasons Angelique was selected.
According to a biography at www.jessangelique.com, she is the quiet student in your class overlooked but overachieving without attention. Angelique was never one of the popular kids in school and was bullied by classmates online and in person. Her transparency and insecurity encourage students to be who they are and treat others with respect.
Angelique’s story is relatable to any person who has ever had a typical childhood.
“Being a teen, we all ask the exact same questions,” she said. “Do I belong? Am I worthy? Am I loved?”
Those questions still parade around in her mind, and she ponders whether she’ll ever make it in this difficult, uncertain world.
“A word that describes me is ‘different,’” said Angelique. “Different is a loaded word. Different can be defined as a good thing as well as a bad thing. Different is the one thing that doesn’t belong in the group. Peer pressure in school encourages teens to stay the same, like a song in High School Musical says, ‘Stick to the status quo.’”
Angelique has always marched to the beat of her own drum.
“I was always the independent kid with the wild imagination,” Angelique said. “Before I started school, my mom used to call me her ‘little monkey’ because I had no sense of fear, and I climbed to the highest point in every situation without fear of the fall. As I got older, the lies of classmates, the lies of social media, and even the lies of some of my family members discouraged me from having that spunk, that ‘no fear’ attitude like I had when I was my mom’s ‘little monkey.’ Even though life brings many challenges, I want to share that there is hope.”
In preschool, Angelique said, she vividly remembers a fellow student say she looked ugly in buttons. To this day, she doesn’t like to wear buttons.
“That sounds really weird, but the trauma from hearing the negativity stuck with me,” said Angelique. “That was over 13 years ago and I still remember it today. I know I am not ugly. Nobody is ugly. Anyone who tells you that you are ugly is lying. But I believed the lie. And it hurt.”
Her insecurity continued in grade school as Angelique longed to be more like her peers.
In third grade, she switched schools in the middle of the year. There was one mean, popular girl whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to ensure that Angelique felt belittled, worthless, and not good enough.
“I had no friends in my class,” Angelique noted. “I felt like I was unworthy to have a friend just because I was me. I was different. I had curly hair. I was taller than everyone else. In my mind, I felt ugly. I felt unlovable. I did not have the courage until the last day of school to tell my teacher what was happening, and in the end, she couldn’t do anything about it. I needed that voice of truth, that voice of encouragement to give me the strength to stand up for myself, to have the voice to tell my teacher.”
She moved schools, again, to avoid the girl who made her life miserable, and again, she was the new kid.
“I still struggled with the thought that I didn’t belong,” said Angelique, who in fourth grade, found music to be her solace. “It was one of the places where I could be myself without the fear of others judging me. Music was my refuge. My love for music made me different. While other girls were playing soccer or dancing, I felt like an outcast because I didn’t really have anyone else who liked my style of singing. There may have been other singers, but it was hard to connect with other musicians because I never could relate to their classical style of singing.“
The bullying continued with the advent of social media, which provided another outlet for classmates to taunt her.
Described in one post as an “okay” singer, Angelique was still stung by suggestions that she was not a pretty person.
“I read the Instagram post while my family and I were on a trip in the car; I cried for an hour,” she said. “Those few words pointed out my deepest insecurities. Again, I believed the lies. They hurt. Since pre-school, I had felt that I wasn’t beautiful. I couldn’t take those insults. All of my past hurts welled up and I reached a breaking point. I thought those words were my reality. I thought to myself, ‘Do I have a good voice?’ and Am I pretty?’ I felt terrible about myself. I let the words of one other person, sink way down into my heart, as though everyone else felt the same way. I even found myself thinking, ‘If I weren’t here, would I even be missed?’ and ‘Maybe others’ lives would be better without me.’”
With support from her family and a classmate, Angelique felt that hope was ignited.
“My family and classmate’s affirming words made all of the difference,” she said. “They ignited in me a spark of hope. They made me realize that the words that person said were untrue. Today, there’s even more social media than there was back then, and I can’t even imagine what teens are going through.”
Angelique began taking her music more seriously in the seventh grade and turned her attention to learning to play the guitar and keys to accompany herself while singing.
She began to enter music competitions, and leaders in the entertainment industry encouraged her to write music.
Angelique took that advice and I ran with it. “Brand New” is the first song she wrote at the age of 12.
“I know I have written much better songs since, but it is still a favorite for reminding me to have a fresh perspective and not let my past hurts determine my future,” she said.
Her dad sent the song to a record label, which sent back a contract. For the next two years, Angelique spent all her free time writing new music.
“I know that music saved my life in many ways,” she said. “Music truly was a game-changer. Because of it, I never once felt like I needed to use drugs or alcohol because I had music to give me purpose.”
That one note of affirmation was all Angelique needed to write more songs and a couple of years later, at the age of 14, she recorded an album of eight songs entitled, “Won’t Be Defined.”
One of the songs on the album is called Stained Glass Heart and is about how in our brokenness we are beautiful and can shine a light of hope to others like a stained glass piece of art.
The song achieved some outstanding things, but the crazy part was at that time, Angelique did not want classmates to know about it.
“Remembering the bullying from the past, I did not want the same to happen in secondary school,” she said. “One thing I do regret today is being ashamed of myself and my talents. I wish I would’ve had the courage at that time to share who I truly am. I think I would still be hiding it today except for realizing that if I keep it a secret I won’t be able to help students like me deal with their insecurities.”
Since her first album, Angelique has had the opportunity to record another EP entitled, “Defined to be Different” with Grammy-award winning producer, Tedd T. Angelique has been touring around the country with NextEra Music Collective.
“It has been a joy to encourage and uplift today’s youth to realize they are not defined by what others say, but by the strength of their character and how they care for one another,” said Angelique.
Along with music, Angelique said encouraging others is another game-changer.
“I have always loved to build people up,” she said. “I love to find the students that are like me in school. I want to find the students that are sitting alone and make them know their potential and the importance they have in this world.”
Her mission is to help students know to be unashamed of the things that make them different.
“Every kid has a light, and no one should ever blow it out,” Angelique said. “The world would be boring if we were all the same. My question to students is ‘Why would you want to be carbon copies or clones of each other?’ I think if students don’t try to follow the status quo, they will be more able to accept and cherish who they really are.”
In short, Angelique believes students “matter, they have value, and they have purpose. Each individual student is an MVP. As they activate their own unique talents to help others, students will realize they are not alone and they have hope for today and the future.”
During the virtual presentation, Angelique will cover anti-bullying in school and anti-cyberbullying, positive self-worth through believing in yourself, suicide prevention, anti-drug use, dealing with disappointments, making positive decisions/choices, and treating everyone with kindness and respect regardless of background/physical characteristics.
All schools within the county will participate with the exception of Fatima students in grades 7-12.
Students in grades K-3 will watch the presentation via Zoom at 9 a.m. Oct. 27, and grades 4-6 will see it at 1 p.m. that day. All high school and middle school students will participate Oct. 28, those in grades 9-12 seeing it at 9 a.m. and grades 7-8 to view it at 12:30.
“We truly hope that all students are in school those days, but we can accommodate any students working from home as well,” said Bellsmith.