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Olympic star Aly Raisman, victim of molester Larry Nassar, tells youths to speak out against bullies

This story was published in the Orlando Sentinel.

Olympic star gymnast Aly Raisman, who came forward last year as one of the teenage victims of child molester Larry Nassar, urged thousands of Jewish youths gathered in Orlando to speak out whenever they see something wrong or are bullied.

“Even though it’s hard, and it’s scary, it’s important for you all to remember: No matter who you are, you deserve to feel safe,” Raisman, 23, said Friday. “That you deserve to be heard, and you deserve to be believed.”

The three-time Olympic gold medalist was one of the several motivational speakers at the B’nai B’rith youth organization’s international convention. She didn’t mention Nassar in her speech at the Hyatt Regency Orlando.

Nassar was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and a physician at Michigan State University convicted last year of molesting scores of girls and young women under his care, including Raisman.

At Nassar’s sentencing hearing in January, Raisman was one of several victims who read statements slamming the disgraced doctor. She wished him “a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.”

At the convention, she encouraged the young people to be strong.

“You guys all have a voice, and it’s important you use your voice,” Raisman said. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Don’t ever let anyone tell you they don’t believe in you.”

Another speaker was Susan Bro, whose daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed during protests in Charlottesville, Va., last year.

Bro spoke about how her 32-year-old daughter — “who was an ordinary person” — died after a car plowed into a crowd while she was protesting racism. Bro wanted those listening to be inspired by her daughter’s courage in speaking out against injustices.

“You are an unstoppable force when you are motivated,” she said. “You can be a driving force for change with a simple act. Heather’s favorite saying was: ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.’ ”

The young people also heard from Jason Kander, president of Let America Vote; Caryl Stern, president of UNICEF USA; and Zachary Pamboukas, an 8-year-old born without an arm who now uses a bionic limb.

“Do your best to be your best,” Zachary said.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, urged listeners to “be an activist” and “build a less hateful world.”

“Don’t leave it up to the adults of today to solve gun violence,” Greenblatt said. “You are the generation that will make the change. … Together, we will build a country and a community of less hate.”

But Raisman, a two-time Olympian, was the clear star of the event.

Before she took the stage in the hotel’s grand ballroom, hundreds clapped and chanted “Aly! Aly! Aly!” Others rushed to the front of the room to get a better look at the famous athlete.

“She had a very powerful message,” Rabbi Allen Saks, of Hollywood, said afterward. “She’s very much of a role model for many.”

Ali Haden, 18, of Bern, Switzerland, said when a famous athlete like Raisman speaks, many youths will listen.

“She really made a good speech about anti-bullying and not be afraid to speak up,” Haden said. “But I wish she also talked about gymnastics, too.”

Raisman ended her speech with words of encouragement.

“We’re all going through something,” she said. “We’re all survivors of something. No matter what it is … it’s really important to know that if you’re having a hard time, that it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to ask for help.”

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