HOUSTON, Texas — Murray native Joshua Smith did not have a lot of time for remembering Tuesday’s events in the nation’s capital, which included being a guest of President Donald J. Trump for his State of the Union Address at the U.S. Capitol.
Smith was in Houston Wednesday tending to business related to his martial arts exploits. He owns studios in his current hometown of Paducah, as well as Clarksville, Tennessee. However, after arriving in Texas that morning, he was able to recall a few things from the experience, which he said was made possible because of something he would rather forget – the death of his brother from a suicide that was caused by cyber bullying.
“It seems surreal, when you’re there” said Smith, a 1999 graduate of Calloway County High School. “(Tuesday), I went to the White House and met with the First Lady and the president. I also got to ride in an official vehicle with (longtime conservative radio talk show host and now Medal of Freedom recipient) Rush Limbaugh and his wife. It was really an eventful day.”
This was actually Joshua Smith’s second visit to the White House since September. That was when his younger brother, Channing, died as the result of what is suspected to be a cyber bullying incident. Joshua said Wednesday that Channing committed suicide after two classmates at his school in Coffee County, Tennessee released a text message communication that Channing had been having with another male student. Joshua said Channing chose to take his own life on the same day the classmates released the text message to others that outed Channing as being bisexual.
Channing was only 16. Joshua is 38.
“I immediately just felt really guilty,” Joshua said, explaining that the combination of him being so much older – as well as having a strained relationship with his father, with whom Channing lived – prevented the siblings from being closer. “I always thought about it and, in my mind, I’d thought with Channing, ‘One day, you’ll be grown up and out of high school and everything will just be better.’
“I was just immediately flooded with guilt and thinking, ‘Man! I wish I could’ve been there! Was there something I could’ve done? Did I miss something?’ I had just called him on the phone a week or two before this happened. I talked to him for over an hour on the drive home. I had no idea he was suicidal or anything like that. I didn’t see anything like this coming.
“He was likely just humiliated by everything and he may also have been fearful that my dad would find out about it.”
It was his grief that fueled Joshua to try and do something. So, shortly after Channing’s death, Joshua started a movement called @justiceforchanning, a movement seeking charges against those responsible. That is proving difficult because Joshua said the main prosecutor in that community is not sympathetic to Joshua’s cause. The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville reported in November that the prosecutor is not seeking criminal charges in the case.
The case drew national attention with Joshua appearing on numerous news shows. Even country music star Billy Ray Cyrus offered his talents during Channing’s memorial service, singing the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
Meanwhile, all of this was capturing the attention of First Lady Melania Trump, who is a strong anti-cyberbullying advocate. She invited Joshua, as well as Cyrus, to meet with her in late October at the White House. In addition, Joshua as started the @justiceforchanning movement that is seeking to enact laws against cyberbullying.
“And after we met, she invited me back for the State of the Union,” Joshua said. “Hopefully, this is going to make a push to keep the story alive and help further awareness and prevention.The First Lady has her ‘Be Best’ campaign. Now, I’m not working with ‘Be Best’ necessarily, but we have a very common mission.
“I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it, but I work with a ton of children and I’m a parent as well with two kids. Today, they’re not fighting each other. They’re going to social media and using their phones and bashing each other. That’s the preferred weapon of today.
“We live in a different world, in different times. The old times are not coming back, you know? We’ve got to adjust. There are no laws in place right now. School systems talk about anti-bullying policies, but the teachers aren’t even sure what that is and the students, for sure, don’t know what the policy is. So there’s a huge, huge gap.”