Friends and families fixed their attention on a projector screen in the gymnasium of Big Sky High School Wednesday night as a video in which the Arlee boys basketball team, the Warriors, dedicated their state championship to people struggling with suicide.
The Warrior Movement was subsequently created with the mission of “making sure every person on Earth knows they matter, they’re loved and someone cares.”
Members of the Warrior Movement visited Big Sky to spread their message of hope during an Missoula County Public Schools event celebrating Native American Heritage Week.
“A lot of the Warrior Movement is culture,” said Zanen Pitts, one of the leaders of the movement and the Arlee Warrior’s basketball coach. “It’s Native American culture. It’s family first. Family’s everything. Community, taking care of the people in your village.”
The movement is based on the idea that it’s OK to tell people when you’re struggling, said Doug Lefler, the president of the Warrior Movement.
Pitts said that to him, the very definition of a Warrior is someone who is OK with asking for help when they need it.
“The problem is society’s gone away from that and we’re too selfish and we’re self-centered and we’re more focused on our likes and shares and social media,” Pitts said. “Imagine if we stepped back to realize those around us are struggling, and just asking how they’re doing.”
Members of the movement talked to the audience at Big Sky to explain what it is, who they are and what they represent.
Billy Fisher said he just wants other people to know that there are people that care for them and they shouldn’t lose hope.
His brother, Isaac Fisher, said it’s important for teens to be kind to each other. “You have to stand up for each other and say, 'Hey, quit picking on them,' and bring them into your circle of people,” he said.
The movement also talked about the ways that they’re expanding and what their next steps are. The Warrior Movement is now a nonprofit with a board and a president. They’re also working on a website and clothes, which will help them raise money to help people and families that are struggling, Pitts said.
Lefler said one of their long-term goals is to develop after-school programs that will keep kids active. They’re also working with Nike and N7 on some projects that they’ll be sharing more details on in the future.
But above all else, they’re focused on furthering their message and fostering an environment where anyone feels he or she can reach out to them, as Pitts offered in the assembly.
Pitts and Jordan Lefler, the videographer behind the movement’s videos, both said they have received numerous phone calls, texts and messages on social media from people who just need to talk.
“I’m not a counselor. I don’t claim to be one. I don’t claim to be able to know how to do all that stuff. But it was the simple fact that I was able to get that person through the next minute through a conversation,” Pitts said of one encounter. “Now I have a lifelong friend and I feel that they were instrumental in changing my life as much as I was hopefully able to impact their life.”
Just last week, Jordan Lefler said that he and Pitts received a message about a boy in seventh grade who got a text from one of his friends saying that they were going to take their life.
“That boy, who had been one of the kids who ordered a hoodie from us and had been interacting with the Facebook page, took it upon himself to tell the school faculty and tell this other kid’s parents about what the kid was doing,” Jordan Lefler said. “I was really impressed that a kid that young took it upon himself to try to stop this other kid.”
Pitts said that sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what impact the movement has, but he said those types of incidents make it worth it for him. He said he’s excited to see the movement grow and hopes that having a website will help them raise funds to donate to kids who are struggling.
“Not every kid’s going to go to a basketball game on Saturday night,” Pitts said. “I’m sure there’s one kid at home wishing they had something to do. If that kid doesn’t like basketball, we need to find something for that kid to do.”
Lefler said there’s also a lot of conversation on what exactly the movement is and he wants to emphasize that it’s not a movement that puts the responsibility on kids to save other kids.
“We’re not trying to make counselors out of kids,” he said. “The fact that the Warrior Movement started with a video that some high school boys made is incredible because they were the youth and they decided to stand up for something and break the stigma. But it’s all of our responsibility, it’s not just the kids.”