RACINE — “Speak up.”
If you are being bullied — say something.
If you are hurting — tell someone.
If you see a fellow human being getting verbally or physically assaulted, don’t stand by idle. Reach out and help them.
That was the message dozens of local residents had to share with the community on Monday night.
Spilling out from the snowy front lawn of a home on the city’s north side, they were gathered to honor the life of Horlick High School freshman Alexis “Lexi”Lopez-Brandies.
Brandies, 14, who took her life on Sunday, was a victim of intense bullying, said family and friends.
Organized Sunday night by friends and classmates, the vigil was slated to begin at 7 p.m. At 6:45 p.m., more than 50 people had gathered outside the teen’s home. By 7:15 p.m., that number had grown to nearly 200, with teens, parents, teachers and even young children huddled together on the sidewalk, and even into the street.
Holding candles, they clutched each others’ hands, and bounced from foot to foot beneath the falling snow.
Their faces streaked with tears, friends recalled Lexi as a nonconformist with a big heart.
A Facebook profile photo of the late student seen Monday shows her with a wide smile and short, choppy hair.
Park High School student Mikeal Dollak Posch, 15, shared stories about his friendship with Lexi and encouraged those gathered to speak up when they see someone getting bullied.
“If you see somebody picking on somebody else, just say something, that is all you have to do,” he said.
Her family agreed.
“I can’t tell you, as we all stand here and watch all of you continue to show up, how it makes us feel,” said Lexi’s grandfather, Wallace Brandies, speaking to the crowd of young faces.
Describing his granddaughter as beautiful and artistic, Wallace Brandies thanked the youths who turned out for the vigil, but also encouraged them to do what they could to help prevent what happened to Lexi from happening again.
“We all know what happened. But there is more to it. There was mental health issues, and there was bullying. Both need to change, and they need to be addressed in our society and our community,” he said. “As parents, and grandparents, we can advise and we can direct, but the ones that need to change it are you ... Silence is complicit. So when you see each other struggling, and you see somebody suffering, reach out.
“I would like to think, and I am going to hold on to the thought, that if she saw this today, and she knew how much she was loved, she would still be here.”
Grief-sticken, but equally touched by the turnout, Lexi’s father, Rudy Brandies, and Kelly Hetchler, her stepmother, encouraged all the young people gathered to come to Lexi’s visitation on Thursday evening at Purath-Strand Funeral Home & Crematory, 3915 Douglas Ave., and to dress any way they wanted.
“Wear skinny jeans, and band tees,” her father told the kids.
That is what Lexi would have wanted, he said.