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Ahziya Osceola remembered during National Child Abuse Awareness Month walk

 

Tribal citizens and friends demonstrate on the Hollywood Reservation April 22 to stand up for children and against child abuse. Since 1983, April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month for communities to work together to prevent abuse and neglect, and promote the well-being of children and families.
Tribal citizens and friends demonstrate on the Hollywood Reservation April 22 to stand up for children and against child abuse. Since 1983, April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month for communities to work together to prevent abuse and neglect, and promote the well-being of children and families.

HOLLYWOOD — Ahziya Osceola lived only three years, but his grandfather Kenny Tommie is working to assure the boy’s short life makes a difference for years to come.

The fourth annual Child Abuse Prevention Community Walk, sponsored by the Center for Behavioral Health, was held simultaneously April 22 in Immokalee, Big Cypress, Brighton and Hollywood to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect.

Dressed in blue, the Hollywood community walked through the reservation, some carrying signs pleading for an end to child abuse.

“I want families to be aware that child abuse isn’t just in the form of physical, but is also verbal. And with drug and alcohol abuse, children are neglected,” said Tommie. “It happens everywhere and it is among us. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen to another child.”

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1974, provides federal assistance to states for prevention, identification and treatment programs.

Since 1983, April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month for communities to work together to prevent abuse and neglect, and promote the well-being of children and families.

“Our goal is to raise awareness of child abuse prevention, bring the community out and get them involved,” said event organizer Shamika Beasley, who works at the center in family and child advocacy compliance and quality assurance. “We are also here to honor Ahziya and memorialize him.”

According to the Children’s Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2014 child protective services nationwide received about 3.6 million referrals of child abuse involving approximately 6.6 children in 46 states. Reports were made mostly by professionals including legal and law enforcement officers, teachers and social service personnel.

More than 82 percent of perpetrators were between the ages of 18 and 44 years and more than half were women.

The tragic end to Ahziya’s life in April 2015 gave the community walkers a somber reminder of the consequences of abuse

Ahziya passed away from physical abuse allegedly at the hands of his stepmother, who was charged with aggravated manslaughter, child neglect with great bodily harm and giving false information to police. His father was charged with one count of child neglect. Both of his custodial parents, and other adults who lived at the house, were known drug abusers with long arrest records.

In Hollywood, Paul Buster opened the event with a prayer and some words of wisdom. As a culture and language teacher at the Hollywood preschool, he knew Ahziya.

“God gives babies to us to love and take care of,” Buster said. “Without them, we are lonely. Babies make you laugh and smile; God knows what you need. The worst thing you can do is to abuse and hurt them. Your first responsibility is to take care of your children.”

National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) board member Ted Nelson talked about the importance of NICWA’s work. He urged the crowd of about 40 to come together as a community and take responsibility.

“We all need to join in and help to prevent child abuse and neglect,” he said. “When we see things, it’s our responsibility to let someone know. If you see a child with bruises or marks on his body, you need to report that. Treat it just like that child is your own. The children are our future.”

With that, community members took to the streets silently marching while holding banners that decried child abuse. Some signs were emblazoned with Ahziya’s smiling face.

The message was clear: stop child abuse and honor the memory of an innocent boy who lived a very short life but whose memory will live on with purpose.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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