Bikers Ride to stop bullying
A chilly fall motorcycle ride warmed plenty of hearts and helped change a child's view of himself and the world. On October 15, a group of over one hundred riders on sixty-plus motorcycles rode from Utah County to the Idaho Falls area in support of Jackson Bezzant, an eight-year-old boy coping with Treacher Collins syndrome. Jackson's genetic disorder has left him with under-developed facial bones and functional problems with his ears, nose, eyes and esophagus. Besides his physical challenges and his mounting number of painful surgeries, Jackson has been dealing with a barrage of bullying.
A heartfelt Facebook post from Jackson's dad, Dan Bezzant, on September 14 grabbed the attention of biker Sarah Ann Epperson of Pleasant Grove who knew she wanted to do something to help. In the post, Bezzant wrote that his son was called a freak and a monster. The boy had been pushed, shunned and had rocks thrown at him. Bezzant pleaded with parents to educate their children about special needs and teach them about compassion. The statement that broke Epperson's heart was that such a young child was talking about suicide.
Epperson decided that the best way to teach and reach out at the same time would be to get her own eight-year-old son, Matthew Bowen, involved. Matthew immediately embraced the idea of becoming Jackson's pen pal. Coincidentally, Matthew was reading the book "Wonder" at the time. The main character in "Wonder" suffers from Treacher-Collins syndrome just like Jackson. The book has been made into a major motion picture to be released in November. Matthew and Jackson began corresponding, but Epperson wanted to do more. She contacted some of her biker friends to see if they wanted to organize a ride to Ammon, Idaho to visit Jackson personally.
"We're bikers. Everything turns into a ride," said ride captain Kelly Arocha in an interview on November 11.
"We thought all little boys like motorcycles, so we needed to go visit him," said Annette Ault in a November 11 interview at her home in Cedar Fort.
The ride expanded as more people got involved. Organizers Sarah Epperson of Pleasant Grove, Kelly Arocha of Saratoga Springs and Annette Ault and Greg Douglas of Cedar Fort drove up to Ammon, Idaho two weeks before the event to meet Jackson and his family and map their route. According to Douglas, the bikers felt an instant bond with Jackson and his family.
All four ride organizers belong to riding club Abate of Utah. Ault and Douglas also ride with Knees to the Breeze and serve on the board of directors of Children and the Earth, a fundraising and aid organization for sick children and their families. The bikers have participated in numerous "wish rides" for terminally ill children and, sadly, funeral escort rides. But the ride for Jackson was not a scheduled club ride; just a group of friends hoping to encourage a struggling little boy.
"People were stepping up and making a difference for this little guy," said Douglas.
The motorcycle ride on October 15-16 began at Blues Street BBQ in American Fork, adding riders all along the way to Ammon, Idaho. Organizers had expected ten or fifteen riders but rolled into Ammon with more than one hundred. Luckily, they had coordinated with local law enforcement for traffic control. Law enforcement agencies from Utah County, Salt Lake County and Iron County in Utah donated patches and pins for Jackson. When they arrived at his house, the bikers gave Jackson the collection of pins and made him an honorary biker by presenting him with his own "cut" (biker vest) and helmet.
"He was ecstatic. Ear to ear grins," said Arocha.
Jackson also got to meet his pen pal Matthew who rode to Idaho on the back of his mom, Sarah's motorcycle. According to Ault, the boys were thrilled. With his parents' approval, Jackson rode on the back of Douglas' motorcycle to Bowleros Bowling Alley where the group enjoyed free bowling and free pizza from Papa Tom's.
"It was quite phenomenal everybody that helped us," said Ault.
The next morning, the bikers and local motorcycle cops braved the 23 degree F cold and met at Maverik for free donuts and coffee. According to Arocha, they had to scrape ice off their motorcycle seats. They then escorted Jackson to school.
"I think my eyelashes froze. It was so cold, but it was so worth it to do this with him," said Ault.
With the principal's permission, the bikers talked to students outside the school about saying no to bullying. They gave "Say No to Bullying" stickers to teachers to share with students later during classroom discussions on this important issue.
"We tried to bring awareness to the school that bullying is not a good idea. It hurts people," said Ault.
Ride organizers have maintained contact with Jackson and his family and are heartened by the little boy's changed perspective.
"His life has turned upside down in a positive way," said Ault.
"He went from thinking he was an ugly monster to knowing he is loved," said Douglas
Jackson's mom, Kelley Bezzant, has reported in messages to Douglas that Jackson's classmates are more accepting now, and he has some neighborhood friends. His new biker buddies can visit him when he is in Utah for surgeries at Primary Children's Hospital. They are carrying on their anti-bullying campaign by selling "Say No to Bullying" patches. The proceeds from the patches will help pay for Jackson's surgeries.
"If we can help save even one person's life, it will all be worth it," said Ault.
For more information on purchasing anti-bullying patches, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Children and the Earth is sponsoring a fundraiser for Jackson's medical expenses at https://jackson-bezzant-fundraiser.everydayhero.com/us/jackson-bezzant-fundraiser.
The community news source for Eagle Mountain Utah, Saratoga Springs Utah, Lehi Utah, American Fork Utah, Highland Utah, Alpine Utah, and The Cedar Valley, including Cedar Fort Utah and Fairfield Utah. Copyright 2017 The Crossroads Journal LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.