Buddy bench honours transgender teen from Sydney
The memory of Justin Newell is being honoured with a buddy bench at Sydney Academy, where other teens with struggles are being invited to have a seat.
It's been more than a year since Chris Melski last saw his son alive. Newell was just 13 when he took his own life in June of last year.
“There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss him, that I don't think about him,” said Melski, who is speaking to media for the first time since Justin’s death. “I have regrets that I think every reasonable parent would have. Why didn't we see this coming? Why didn't we know?”
As a transgender person, Justin was often the target of bullies.
One place he felt at home was as a member of the 29 Sydney Kiwanis Air Cadets.
“Justin loved everybody,” said Maj. Dodi Hanna of the Kiwanis Squadron. “Justin would love the thought that people were sitting here together and that he had a part of it.”
It’s something so simple, but yet so powerful. The buddy bench made in memory of Justin is meant to help people feel comfortable, and not alone, when facing daily struggles.
“When somebody sits on the bench, all of the cadets in the squadron know they come and sit with the person sitting on the bench,” Hanna said. “No one sits alone.”
It's a way to honour Justin's memory, a gesture his father is grateful for and says is a fitting way to remember Justin.
“He was always looking out for other people,” Melski said. “Always trying to help his friends with whatever problems they had. Whether he was dealing with his own issues or not.”
The bench is more than just a place to sit and have a rest. Hanna says the hope is that the children will learn that this is a place to stop and help one another.
Melski says he had many people stop and offer the family support after Justin's death.
He says he has regrets, but tells parents in similar situations to hold their kids tight and pay attention to their social media activities.
“What I miss the most is what he had the potential to become,” Melski said. “I won't have a chance to teach him how to drive, to teach him how to shave. I'm never going to have a chance to do any of those things. He had the potential to be anything he wanted to be.”
Justin may be gone, but his legacy lives on through this bench and its message of support and acceptance.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.