By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
The students of TVEMS, DTEMS, TCHS, as well as a few home school students experienced a treat on Thursday, October 11 when a special guest put on an unforgettable program that is sure to stick with those in the audience. One of the most famed super heroes of all time took a break from his busy schedule to teach students a valuable life lesson they are sure to never forget. Of course we are referring to none other than Batman.
Upon further investigation, Batman is not the true hero in this case, but it’s the man behind the mask, John Buckland. The program always begins in the same way with Buckland decked out from head to toe in the entire Batman ensemble, but very quickly he does an uncharacteristic act within the super hero world; he removes his mask. “I want to show there is nothing to hide behind”, Buckland stated in an interview prior to the students arriving. “I went through a lot of tragedy in my life from child abuse, drugs, suicide attempts which then spiraled me out of control, so basically I’m taking that dynamic because of all the things we have going on in schools and sharing that story in a way that will give them the tools to overcome things in the same way”, he explained. Taking that pain and turning it into power is his powerful platform he bases his presentations on. “You are actually using the trauma in your life instead of avoiding or running from it or letting it destroy you”, Buckland added. “It’s a delicate balance of teaching them that the actual incident is not their fault, but what they do with it is their responsibility”.
Buckland became the only full time Batman in the world on September 4, 2012 when he says it was God telling him to become Batman. “It was 2:30 a.m. and I couldn’t get two words out of my head. Be Batman”. Buckland woke his wife up after he couldn’t get past these two words being repeated to him and told her he thought God wanted him to be Batman. Her response was, “You do whatever God tells you, I’m going back to sleep”. His message from God to “Be Batman” leads him to searching the internet at 3 a.m. for his first Batman suit, which he admitted cost him $3,500. Another reason he feels he was lead to be Batman is because he is so relatable. He has no super powers, Batman lost both of his parents to murder, and he found a way to take that pain and turn it into power, much like Buckland. “Anyone can become Batman”, suggested Buckland. Since then, he has visited over seven hundred schools, attended twenty seven funerals of children, speaks at festivals and hospice camps and anywhere he has an opportunity. “That’s kind of the advantage to having been through so many things in my life, I can speak about pretty much anything”, he stated.
Buckland’s father was in the Air Force which resulted in him being born in Spain and living all over the world. Huntington, WV is his home now, the “Gotham City of West Virginia”, he joked. Batman Buckland has visited several locations in the tri-state area, extending his territory as far as California. In addition to his motivational speaking, there is a charity side of his mission known as the H 4 H Foundation. “We help people out with funeral expenses for kids that pass away”, he explained. “One of the things we do is we pay to have custom caskets built for the kids that showed exactly what they loved in life”, Buckland added.
As Batman began his story, the students were hanging on to his every word. Buckland reflected back, taking the audience on a journey with him, allowing them instant access into the darkest corners of his life. The adventure begins with him growing up as “an air force brat” and being moved from home to home it was difficult for a shy young boy who is bad at sports to adjust to. He shared his Dad was abusive to his mother and brother, and his brother took it out on him. In an attempt for Buckland to make some friends and be involved in something besides sports, he enrolled in Boy Scouts where their leader ended up being a predator and raped Buckland and twelve other boys for two years.
Buckland continued down his timeline sharing with the students how he turned to drugs, in which he was a full blown addict by his freshman year of high school. One thing lead to another with several more addictions and poor choices, he found himself homeless and hungry by his senior year. “If you’re going to dig your garden, you better dig up the roots”, he suggested as he described his inability to address the true issues in his life.
Moving forward, Buckland finds himself with a pregnant girlfriend he ends up marrying, abusing, divorcing, and then losing custody of his one year old son. He attempted suicide twice, when he recalled how angry he was when he woke up and realized he failed. To cope, more bad choices were made when, along with friends, they decide to rob two restaurants by holding guns to cashiers head. After a week, police caught up with the criminals, landing Buckland with a sentence of up to twelve years in a maximum security penitentiary. While locked up, he described the turning point in his life when he was asked by another inmate why he was always so angry and taking it out on everyone. “I cussed him out and went on, but I found myself constantly reflecting on that question”, he admitted, “I made a choice; I’m not going to be like Dad and I found a counselor and opened up”.
“You never know what’s going on at home”, he reiterated. “You do not want to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That is guilt you will never be able to wash off” he reassured the audience. Buckland’s life took a major turn at that point. He finished a GED program, went to college, started working in the restaurant business as a bus boy and worked his way to manager, and in 2003 he was pardoned by the state of Georgia for both robberies, which enabled him to pursue his dream of becoming a fire fighter. “There is no such thing as participation trophies in real life”, he explained. “If you’re going to dream, dream big”, he said.
With time and hard work, from volunteer fire fighter to running a safety department in Iraq for two years aiding in military protection, John Buckland was living his dream. After returning from Iraq in 2011 and dealing with PTSD, which he sought counseling for immediately, he turned on the television to hear what is going on in West Virginia. His wife was originally from our great state, so it made the relocation an easy decision.
TCHS sophomore Shelby Gooden was asked her most memorable impression regarding Batman Buckland’s presentation. “I think what stood out to me the most was about being damaged and not getting help. You have to reach out to get help to better yourself or it’s all just going to build up”. Gooden continued, “It’s true, I’ve experienced it. You do need to stand up and reach out and change yourself for the better”.
Parker Bennett, TCHS freshman, provided his feedback. “I found it amazing! The way he turned his life around from all the stuff that happened to him; it’s really inspiring”, Bennett exclaimed. “It was amazing! He was amazing!”
It is evident that Batman John Buckland has left an everlasting impression on the youth of Tucker County in just less than two hours with them. An impression parents and educators can be proud of exposing these young individuals to. With all the negative influences the youth of our community is exposed to, it is a blessing to have members of society such as Buckland who have set out to share how to “turn pain into power”. If you would like more information on Buckland’s mission and charity organization, you can visit his website at www.H4HCharity.org