October 23, 2017

Melania Trump addresses bullying in surprise trip to Michigan

First lady Melania Trump is making good on a promise she made earlier this year to combat childhood bullying, taking a surprise trip Monday to a middle school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a Detroit suburb.

Trump is bringing awareness to a problem that many children are confronted with on a daily basis. She gave brief remarks to students in the cafeteria, encouraging them to make new friends and get to know children outside of their social group. She then sat in on a sixth grade classroom discussion on social and emotional inclusion.

"I always believe that you need to treat each other with respect and kindness and compassion, but also stay true to yourself. Just listen to your heart, but be yourself," the first lady told students in the classroom.

Speaking separately in the cafeteria, Trump urged students to find new friends to eat lunch with.

"Ask them what they like, what their hobbies are, so nobody becomes sad or stressed and everybody feels included," she said. "I think it's important that we choose kindness and compassion."

The visit was part of her participation in a No One Eats Alone Day event, which Orchard Lake Middle School orchestrated. The concept encourages kids not to leave anyone out at lunchtime and was created by Beyond Differences, a national organization that works to combat detrimental school culture and prevent bullying.

"In doing research for her platform, the first lady learned of #NoOneEatsAlone," Trump's communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN. "She wants to talk to kids about the importance of being inclusive and the negative effects of social isolation. This kind of activity also fosters integrity and leadership in young kids."

Last month during a United Nations speech in New York City, Trump said she intended to use her position as first lady of the United States to help with issues facing children. She included bullying in her list of concerns.

"Together, we must acknowledge that all too often it is the weakest, most innocent and vulnerable among us -- our children -- who ultimately suffer the most from the challenges that plague our societies," the first lady had said. "Whether it is drug addiction, bullying, poverty, disease, trafficking, illiteracy or hunger, it is the children who are hit first and hardest in any country. And as we all know, the future of every nation rests with the promise of their young people."

As Trump embarks on her anti-bullying crusade, she will likely face critics, those who point to her husband, President Donald Trump, as someone who engages in regular name-calling and other tactics that could be perceived as bullying.

This weekend, for example, the President continued to tweet his derogatory nickname for Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, calling her "Wacky." Earlier this month, he mocked Republican Sen. Bob Corker's height, dubbing him "Liddle Bob Corker."

So does the first lady feel the need to reconcile her platform on bullying with the behavior of the man she married? Absolutely not, according to Grisham.

"Mrs. Trump is independent and acts independently from her husband. She does what she feels is right, and knows that she has a real opportunity through her role as first lady to have a positive impact on the lives of children. Her only focus is to effect change within our next generation," she told CNN.

That Melania Trump has an independent streak when it comes to the President shouldn't be a surprise -- after all, it was her hand-swat seen around the world that made headlines when the couple landed in Israel in May. After blocking her out of a red carpet photo-op on the tarmac in Tel Aviv, the President reached for his wife's hand, which she quickly but succinctly batted away.

Additionally, the first lady has tweeted messaging independent of that of her husband, often being first to offer words of support or condolence in the face of national and international tragedies. While the President caused controversy about government support of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, tangling with the mayor of San Juan, Melania Trump taped a public service announcement, pleading with Americans to remember to help storm victims.

It's a yin-and-yang communication strategy. But Grisham said despite the somewhat incongruous nature of their approaches, the President is entirely in his wife's corner.

"The President is supportive of all that Mrs. Trump does," she said.

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