It’s Easter! And though I am not a believer, it’s a holiday I appreciate on other levels. (And by other levels, I mostly mean those little foil wrapped chocolate eggs.) But there is another excellent reason to celebrate Easter. It is the holiday that announces the arrival of spring. I live in Michigan. Just making it to spring can give you a feeling of achievement. Every year my mood is buoyed by the greening, and the flowering, and the feeling of a fresh start. Spring is the season for optimists, and today my column is all about optimists.
Today, I want to give credit and say thank you to the determined people all over the country who, alone, or in groups large and small, have done something to stop bullying. I think you will be surprised by just how diverse and widespread the movement is. Hopeful things are happening at all levels. No doubt you’ve heard about some of the higher profile events. Like, just this week, the Weinstein Brothers released (with considerable buzz over the movie’s rating) the acclaimed documentary “Bully,” opening eyes to the subject as only Hollywood can do. The It Gets Better Project recently added Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to their growing list of celebrity videos. And just last Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House advisor Valerie Jarrett spoke about LGBT safety at a “Safe School” conference in Texas. But here are some great people, doing great things, you may not have heard about.
At the Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School in St. Helena California, art teacher Kendra Kelperis has the students painting close up enlargements of their eyes on a giant mural in the school’s breezeway. “Research shows that when eyes are watching you, that actually changes your behavior,” explains Ms. Kelperis. “When you watch bullying happen and you don’t do anything, you make the problem worse.” Local High School students helped make stencils from photographs of each students eyes, and the middle schoolers then painted them on the wall. Ms. Kelperis said every student in the school was involved in some way.
If art is your thing too, you have until Wednesday to submit your entry for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation’s poster contest. http://action.bornthiswayfoundation.org/page/s/poster-contest. The Foundation, which was founded by the pop icon to fight bullying, is looking for original art it can use as a logo. The winning entry will include the foundation’s name and answer the question, “What does bravery mean to you?” Lady Gaga and her mother will select the semi-finalists, and a winner will be chosen by popular vote.
GLSEN’ has a Safe Space Campaign, which begins with a rainbow sticker to identify sympathetic teachers to LGBTQ students looking for a friendly face. In Brunswick Maine, high school teacher McKell Barnes had a similar thought. She hung a sweatshirt with the words “Gay? Fine by me.” in her classroom. She thought it might provoke conversation, but never expected a dozen students to approach her about buying a shirt. Ms. Barnes ordered 160 more to sell at school and on Facebook with the profits going to Brunswick High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance Group.
Also selling T-Shirts is Melissa Richardson of Eau Claire Wisconsin, the mother of twelve-year-old Payton Richardson who took her own life as a result of bullying. “I’m throwing myself into this to give me something to get out of bed for everyday. Said Mrs. Richardson. “Payton was my everything”. Fat Boys Pizza and Bloomers, a local floral shop, have stepped up to help her market the t-shirts, window decals and magnets decrying bullying. The profits will go to fund scholarships for kids who speak out against bullies.
In Southport, New York, sixteen students in the Advanced College Placement Program of Notre Dame High School raised money to offer to the community a free screening of the documentary “Finding Kind” http://www.kindcampaign.com/documentary/ which tells the story of two girls on a road trip across American to investigate the “mean girl” phenomena. Later this month they will host a fashion show celebrating girls at the school who were bullied but are now determined to be part of the movement for change.
On March 25, in Annapolis Maryland, a girl identified as Sarah posted on Reddit: “The cyber bullying has gotten to the point where the school will not take any action unless I kill myself. Reddit- how do I get my story out and make this stop?” Over the next twelve hours, her plea garnered 4000 responses and Arundel High School was flooded with emails of concern. When Sarah returned to school, she found police officers, waiting to take her complaint and preserve the offensive tweets her bully had sent as evidence. Thanks to strangers on the Internet who acted, Sarah got her story out.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) (http://www.gmcla.org/gmcla-amp/) is offering to area schools a free program that includes tickets and transportation to a GMCLA concert. After each performance, the men take on the mentor role, initiating a discussion on bullying and being gay, and answer audience questions. But the group’s dedication to helping students overcome bullying doesn’t stop there. The men have developed a traveling group who work with schools to develop their own musical stage show to highlight the bullying problem.
I’m confident the GMCLA doesn’t have a problem finding talented students to work with, because I came across some extremely gifted teen performers using their musical abilities to send a message about bullying. If you like Glee, you are going to love the “lip dub” video made by the entire student body of Cypress Ranch High School in Texas. The original song, Who Do U Think U R, calling out bullies, was written and performed by student Kaitlin K. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waAqJ6727Hk
If you’re as blown away by the kids in Texas as me, you can vote for them ( http://nobull.votigo.com/contests/browseallentries/all/all ) or hundreds of other entries in the Great American No Bull Challenge, a student led national contest for the best teen video calling attention to cyber-bullying. Some very impressive teen spokespeople have teamed with dozens of sponsors like SAAD and ISAFE to try to create a grassroots movement among America’s students to increase awareness of cyber-bullying. The prizes include a $10,000 video deal and a trip to the Sundance Film Festival. The announcement of the top 15 nominees will be made May 17th, National Cyber Safety Awareness Day. Nominees will be feted at a Red Carpet Awards Banquet in San Francisco in June.
For every example of people stepping up to combat bullying I wrote about today, there were at least ten stories that touched me, but that I couldn’t include. There are probably hundreds, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of stories that never made it to Google so that I could learn about them. Perhaps you know of one? If so, I would invite you to leave your story in the comments section below. Leave a link, if your group has a website. Today is a good day to acknowledge the efforts of everyone who is trying to make things better. Happy Easter everyone. And thank you to all the good people taking a stand to stop bullying.