ANTIOCH -- Karena Melton knows what it is like to be bullied.
When Melton attended Park Middle School after moving from Pleasant Hill a few years ago, she was "harassed profusely" for wearing predominately black-colored clothing.
"They would ask me if I cut myself, or if I'm emo. I used to cry so bad on the way to school, skip class, you name it," Melton, 18, said.
Antioch leaders are hoping to prevent situations like hers.
The number of child victims of bullying -- whether physical, psychological or mental -- is on the rise locally and nationally. In Antioch, 47 percent of seventh-graders, 45 percent of ninth-graders and 28 percent of 11th-graders now say they have been bullied at school. That disturbing trend of child harassment both in schools and increasingly through social media has led a cross-section of Antioch leaders to take action.
Members of the city's school district, Police Department, elected leaders, faith-based community and philanthropic and business leaders met at the "Preventing Bullying and Reconnecting Our Youth" forum Thursday at the Lone Tree Golf Course Event Center to discuss strategies to increase safety and keep students engaged.
Melton, a member of the youth directors panel, also attended the forum. She hopes to help others in the same boat she once was in.
In addition to the rise in bullying, there is a "disturbing acceptance" and "desensitization" as bystanders just watch it happen, said Iris Archuleta, co-founder of Youth Intervention Network, which hosted Thursday's event.
"It's just helping to further this epidemic toward violence and destroying any sense of civility and tolerance," she said.
Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for Northern California, gave the keynote address at the forum, pointing out that prevention at early ages helps keep juveniles from "seeking acceptance" in gangs and away from violence and incarceration.
"Kids will be kids or boys will be boys can no longer be the acceptable response," Haag said.
Antioch, which has the county's largest youth population, is far ahead of many other cities nationwide as far as developing a comprehensive approach where several strata of the community come together, Haag said.
Police Chief Allan Cantando noted one of his top priorities is to bring back school resource officers to be a presence on campus and be able to talk about possible problems with students on an informal level.
"In reality, if we're not talking about it, it won't get a stigma," Cantando said.
Antioch Unified's anti-bullying strategy includes funding counselors at middle schools, where much of the bullying peaks, said Stephanie Anello, the district's associate superintendent of educational services.
Thursday's forum will be replayed on Contra Costa Television at 8 p.m. May 20 and 3 p.m. May 22. It airs locally on Comcast Channel 27, Astound Channel 32 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.