The day began very early for me. If you know me at all, you realize that waking up at 3 a.m. is very uncharacteristic. In fact, that could be the time I'm just going to bed. This night owl does her best work in the late night hours and right after midnight, but Nov. 2 had a 3 a.m. wake-up call. As I drug myself out of the warm bed, the darkness outside my bedroom window was taunting me but I cursed at it under my breath, kissed my dog, Rudy, who gave me a slight grumble, as if he was saying, "Are you crazy, to get up this early?" and staggered toward the shower.
As the mellow tunes of the iPod echoed through the bathroom, I began to pick up speed and began to guzzle iced tea to get that morning caffeine jolt. I should have made coffee but there was no time. I needed to get moving. And moving I did. Before I knew it, I was on the road to Wooster to catch my ride. I would be traveling to the Cleveland airport to meet a lady that would change my outlook on life and myself.
In September, I had received a phone call from Wayne County Sheriff Tom Maurer that would set things in motion. He explained to me about the cyberbullying expert, Parry Aftab, who was going to come to Wooster for a community forum, explaining the dangers and precautions of Internet bullying, sexting and various other cyber issues. I was instantly intrigued. The cyber world is growing exponentially all the time so this was something that I wasn't completely informed about but knew I needed to be. As we talked over the next few weeks, I also learned about the great things area schools in Wayne, Holmes and Ashland counties are doing and the awesome things the Tri-County Educational Service Center has done to spearhead grant writing for bullying programs to be implemented in area schools. Basically, students and educators are being equipped with the tools they need to prevent bullying, notice it when it happens and deal with the consequences of it. What all this means is a safer place for kids to learn, which equates to better citizens when they grow up, thus better communities. Once I knew all this—I was hooked. Further discussions with Sheriff Maurer led to Graphic Publications jumping on board as a sponsor of the Nov. 2 community forum with Parry Aftab—this cyberbullying "expert."
So here I was sitting in an unmarked sheriff's cruiser with Wayne County's top man in the wee hours of the morning driving to Cleveland to pick up this bullying "expert." This woman had better be good, I kept thinking. As the sheriff and I chatted, I began to formulate some questions for Parry Aftab in my mind. By traveling to Cleveland to pick up Parry with the sheriff, I would be granted a one-on-one interview with her. Her schedule was very tight once she arrived in Wooster, so I couldn't pass up this time to speak with her. When I was offered the chance to get some alone time with her to ask her my questions without other media present, I jumped at the chance.
Once we arrived at the airport, I wasn't sure what to expect from this lady I would be spending much of the day with. What was she going to be like? A cyberbullying "expert," Internet lawyer and the list goes on and on. Just read her bio. But who is she really? I had watched plenty of YouTube videos with her talking to prep for the interview and even had seen her on the morning news shows but what was she really like? Diva? Introvert?
Before my mind could wonder any more, the sheriff announced he was going to leave me by the departure gate to go speak with a TSA official. Great, so there I was waiting for this woman he knows but I don't. I guessed I would know her when I saw her.
Just then I spotted her. With her trademark red glasses perched atop her head, she elegantly strolled along the walkway pulling her carry-on bag. She was chatting on the cell phone. Of course she would, after all, she's a very important person! I walked over to her and, without thinking, introduced myself, shook her hand and greeted her. To my surprise, she responded with a big smile and warm friendly handshake. OK, we were off to a good start.
As the three of us headed to the car, and made our formal introductions, I had a feeling that this lady was going to change my life.
As the sheriff navigated through the Cleveland airport traffic, Parry began chatting and it was evident that the two were good friends. I sat in the backseat jotting some questions down for my upcoming interview with this cyberbullying "expert" but I kept thinking, she's really busy and has a tremendous amount of stuff going on in her life, most of which centers around the safety of kids. That is really cool. As I listened, I quickly learned that volunteers operate Parry's groups and she donates her time for these charities. OK, so she's a lawyer and she's not taking money for helping people—that's a plus in my book already. She was moving up Annie's Likeability Scale! How many attorneys do you know that do things for free—I mean a lot of things.
After sitting down in the Dunkin Donuts shop, the three of us began chatting. I listened intently as the sheriff and Parry discussed upcoming issues and recalled past meetings and events they took part in together. They didn't seem to mind my presence there and that put me at ease. I didn't want to be a third wheel and I didn't feel like one so that was a good thing. I was feeling good and I was ready to get to speak with this so-called "expert." I have been so leery of people who tab themselves as such but I don't think she referred to herself as an expert. She seemed to be genuine and modest. That's rare to find in my business, especially for someone who has rubbed elbows with the big wigs in the business. I mean this lady had appeared on the Dr. Phil show, Today Show, Good Morning America, speaks in front of Congress, works with large corporations like Facebook, Google and even Hollywood stars—the list goes on and on. Yet, she seemed, dare I say—normal. Yes, for all intents and purposes, she was likable and nice. And believe me, I was sizing her up. She was the real deal. I've been fortunate to meet a great many people so far in my career. I've met presidents, U.S. senators, movie stars, musicians and the list goes on and on. I can name drop with the best of them but I never really get too impressed by meeting someone "famous." I always tell myself that no matter who the person is, he or she still puts his or her pants on one leg at a time like I do. When it comes down to it, fame is just a state of mind for me. It really doesn't make the person—what's inside does. And as I sipped my mocha latte in the coffee shop, I was getting to see a glimpse of what's inside Parry Aftab, and I liked it.
As the sheriff relented and I began my interview with Parry, I could see the passion in her eyes as she answered every question and then some. She has a deep desire to help children and keep them safe. I don't think she's doing it for the fame or glory but she's making waves in the cyber world to keep America's (and the world's) future safer. (She's doing it in a multitude of ways that will be explained in numerous articles on this website. So watch for upcoming articles about cyberbullying and Parry Aftab.)
Typically when I conduct an interview I have a few basic questions and I let the interviewee take it from there. I don't want to box the person in; I want the story to tell itself. But this interview was different. I wasn't in control. This doesn't happen to me! I found myself totally engrossed in what Parry was saying. I was hanging on her every word. I was hooked. Darn it! I don't like when that happens. Where's the hard-nosed journalist I used to be? As I asked my questions, I began to get it. I mean really get it. This woman has a passion. She knows what she wants in life. She doesn't do it for the Benjamins. She doesn't do it for the fame. She does it because she can and more than that, because it makes a difference in people's lives. And I love that. I mean really, truly love that. Wow! A feeling that I haven't had in a very long time overcame me. I sat almost motionless as she spoke. I swallowed hard to not tear up as tears welled up in her eyes, as she revealed to me what sparked her need to go on this mission to help children. She was genuine. She was true. I met a true hero.
When the interview was done, we exited the coffee shop bound for lunch at the Wooster Inn and I began to think. The sheriff and Parry were chatting away in the front seat but I had my own conversation going in the backseat. No, I'm not nuts, but I was thinking a mile a minute. Could I have met someone who I really needed to meet at this time in my life? Could all roads have led me to this person so I could have a life-changing experience? Is this the moment that I needed to open my eyes? I think so. You see I've been struggling to understand what I really, really want to do. There are so many things that I'm interested in but nothing really strikes a chord with me deep down, way down like cyberbullying, human trafficking and helping children become better citizens does. I had been doing a lot of reading about human trafficking, especially with children, prior to meeting Parry and the cyberbullying issue all plays into it. But speaking with Parry, spending the day with her, I can see that there are people who are really fighting the good fight. They are doing things behind the scenes to help keep future generations safer and rescue the current generation. Whether working with law enforcement, educators or parents, there are good people, like Parry, battling on the front lines.
I am proud to say that I've met Parry and consider Nov. 2, 2010, a day that will forever be important in my life. It was a day I learned that true heroes still exist and that the world is not full of cynical people putting on false faces and pretenses for their own benefit. It was a day that I woke up and realized there is hope for me yet to make a difference in the world. It was a day that I got back a little bit of who I used to be—and I like that.
Published: November 4, 2010