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Friday, November 28, 2014

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Bullied students not alone

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Joshua Miller

Joshua Miller has a message for the bullies who teased and taunted him in the schoolyard. That message is, “Thank you.”

Without them, the University of Toronto student says he would not have pushed himself to start Louder Than Noise, a youth-run non-profit organization that brings together marginalized and bullied students from across Ontario.

By the time Miller was in Grade 10, he had already transferred between multiple schools due to incessant bullying. As he went through some dark days, he began writing poems and short stories, and kept a journal. The creative release energized him.

He says his thoughts then went to kids across the country struggling with the same anxiety and pain. Miller created a “poetry wall” on Facebook for student writers and musicians to post and share their art.

“This was something that I wanted to share with other youth… so they could do something that they love while helping themselves out in a supportive community,” Miller told The CJN.

“I figured I would turn something that could be bad, like the Internet, especially with cyberbullying, into a positive thing.”

As Miller, now 19, describes, Louder Than Noise’s role is to “be a peer supportive community for bullied youth and youth who deal with mental health problems like social anxiety and depression.” The youths congregate online and at a few events every year to share their passions, while defying the stigmas and labels they have been associated with.

The name comes from Miller’s vision of a sound that a generation of youth makes that can rise above a singular voice, making a difference in the world.

The Thornhill, Ont. native says he continues to write poetry and short stories – that is, when there is a lag in his schedule. Beyond his work in the honours arts management program at the University of Toronto, where he is learning more about running a non-profit arts-based group like Louder Than Noise, he aspires to go into politics and journalism.

“The idea of politics and getting involved, being at the helm of making change happen… that would be a tremendous achievement and honour to be able to have,” he says. Miller credits a year he spent as a City Youth Councillor, representing young people from Scarborough East, as a big learning experience.

Even though he has a learning disability, Miller finished high school as an Ontario Scholar. In 2013, Youth in Motion selected him as one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 for his work with Louder Than Noise and more than 500 hours of community service.

Miller says that the organization’s goals were also the result of his parents, who instilled Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam within him.

“I want to do as much good for the Jewish community as I possibly can,” he says. “I was raised to have those values in my life, to use them whenever I can and to always be kind… to always help out.”

Miller says that Louder Than Noise has become a second family to him. Still serving as the group’s executive director, he is now establishing a chapter at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, for next year.

In March, he will host the next Louder Than Noise event. Then, Miller hopes to begin a speaker series in which an inspiring community figure, like a head of a non-profit organization, can engage and motivate youths to be leaders. He says he imagines that these talks could be like Inside the Actors Studio interviews, except with community leaders instead of movie stars.

So, now that Miller has stood up for himself, defying the bullies, what advice does he have for students going through a similar struggle or strain?

“Just know that there are people out there going through the exact same thing as you,” he says. “Although I do not know you, I love you very much and I don’t like to see you struggle in this hard place that you’re in. I know that you can push on and you have the power to do so.

“There’s always someone out there who wants to listen. Never think that you’re alone in this.”

The volume of a statement like that just cannot go quietly.

To find out more, visit louderthannoise.com.

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