Ladue Horton Watkins senior Annie Kopp does not look back fondly on her first year of high school, when she was mercilessly bullied by a boy who sat next to her in class each day.
Her parents fought back. They sent Annie to Second City Camp to regain her composure and self respect and to learn the skills to speak in public about being bullied. The camp worked wonders.
It worked so well, in fact, that Ladue school officials asked her to give her presentation during orientation to the entire school teaching staff and administration.
Her commitment to the cause has earned her honors from HateBrakers, an organization that promotes “hitting the brakes” on hate and encourages followers to speak out and take action when they see hate.
On May 20, at the Frontenac Hilton Hotel, HateBrakers will hold its first-ever recognition banquet. The organization will also be recognizing Susan Balke, now in her 70s and a transplanted St. Louisan, who brought the HateBrakers concept here.
She was married to the late Richard Winter, who as a teenager survived the Nazi’s in Vienna, Austria, and escaped their oppressive regime on his third try.
She has devoted much of her adult life to breaking the cycle of hate everywhere.
She wants to turn this phrase into a household expression.
“I want people to think of HateBraking much like they would think of getting their ducks in a row, and words like that,” she said.
She has written often for the New York Times Magazine about life under the suppression of Nazi German.
She says those who survived the holocaust have a lifetime of terrible memories. Her father was head of classical music publishing and with his skills, he was ordered to Aryanize the music culture of the time, and was not allowed to escape.
Balke has secured the performance of folk singer Peter Yarrow, popular partner inPeter, Paul and Mary to entertain and speak at the May banquet.
Balke has co-written a book about the subject, Close Up Conversations After Hitler with her late husband and Webster University professor Greg Weeks.
Her vision and her dream are coming to fruition. The banquet in May will be a major step forward.
Balke summarizes her feelings by saying this about hate in our world: “We are capable if not at every moment to be heroes ourselves. There are plenty of organizations who focus on bullying, on victims of bullying and on hate and what we are doing is focusing on finding people with moral courage after these hideous incidents to transform themselves into heroes and healers.”