Woodbridge man honored with lifetime award for advocacy against child abuse

Norm Lee of Woodbridge was honored with a lifetime award by The Center for the Human Rights of Children, Loyola University, Chicago for his work to end child abuse.

This honor was bestowed on me by the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University in Chicago, and signed by Director Katherine Kaufka Walts, J.D., and Dr. George Holden of Southern Methodist University.

The award is jointly presented with eight more national institutions, all under the auspices of “Creating a Non-Violent Future” by Chicago’s PsychHealth Ltd., directed by Dr. Madeleine Gomez.

While the award is presented for my work “to end the corporal punishment of children,” my legacy — the life work for which I may be remembered — will include my 50-year effort to abolish all of the many varieties of punishment inflicted on children. With this high aim as a children’s advocate, I often felt like the mythical Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder uphill only to see it roll down again. Yet flickers of light can be seen at the end of even today’s dark-age tunnel of violence.

At age 8 in 1937, I lay in the fetal position on the kitchen floor of my overseer, who had again beaten me with a heavy stick for the crime of being a child. The hot, swelling welts could not be touched without severe pain. It was then — I vividly remember the moment — I vowed that if — IF — I survived these beatings, these years of involuntary servitude, I would tell the world of this monstrous treatment.

I had been abandoned by my mother at age four, and effectively abandoned by my father, who left me at age 7 on that one-cow, two-pig farm to work for my room and board.

After five years of neglect, my father, needing me in his gravestone business, at last came for me. I was a physically debilitated, emotionally shattered, skinny bundle of nervous tics who jumped at every sound. Unable to work, I was taken to a physician.

“What has happened to this child!?” he thundered. After examination, he said that without immediate and prolonged care, I would not live for another six months.

Thus it was that, at age 12, I made the conscious decision that I would “build a life.”

Having been denied playmates and lacking normal socialization, I first joined the Boy Scouts. I remember my surprise, marveling at being accepted, and the joy of playing with other boys.

Next I volunteered as usher at the Methodist church, and soon joined the choir. Alone in the church basement, I taught myself boogie and blues piano, which became my ticket to acceptance in seventh grade — where I also won acclaim as winner of spelling bees.

So it came about that my preoccupation with self-improvement became my daily work: To overcome the damage done by the abuse of my childhood. That lifestyle later morphed into a half-century devoted to freeing all children from the scourge of punishment.

After seven years in the U.S. Air Force, including a year in combat in Korea and two years in occupied Japan, I resigned to matriculate in Syracuse University. There I earned three degrees and the coursework for the Ab.D. Two years teaching public school, then I joined the faculties of Pennsylvania State University, New York State University and Syracuse University.

After four years study and practice in a Buddhist monastery, I moved to Arizona, and soon joined with Jordan Riak, founder of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education. With his help and inspiration, I connected with dozens of like-minded allies.

With a computer given by my son Russell and a website built by Jordan, I was soon issuing a monthly Norm Report. Chapters from my book, “Parenting Without Punishing,” an account of the raising of my sons Henry and Russell, were soon included.

In the Mormon-dominated, fundamentalist Christian community, I announced that wherever I witnessed punishment of a child, I would intervene and put a stop to it. Led by the weekly paper, the community uproar grew to demands that I leave the Valley.

My connection with like-minded allies brought a flood of support, and soon I was touching readers from New York to Hong Kong.

As a children’s advocate for more than 50 years, by Internet work, writings and speeches, I was able to influence thousands in bringing to awareness the crippling harm that punishment and neglect does to children.

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