It Takes a CommunityWritten by Frank DiLallo | | FDiLallo@toledofreepress.com
It takes a village to raise a family and a community to fight bullying. Such a formidable challenge should not be a burden falling on the backs of individual families, schools, places of work or any single institution. Bullying is not a new dilemma, but the current culture of disrespect and violence raise the bar toward unchartered waters and unprecedented fatalities. Just like any epidemic we face bullying cannot and should not be addressed in isolation. There are no simple disciplinary actions that suddenly transform bullies into peace seeking individuals with high levels of empathy, instant confidence builders or protections for victims and certainly no easy ways to turn bystanders into immediate defenders for the dignity of all.
Peer maltreatment may be here for a long while maybe even to stay, but does that mean we throw our hands up and give up. Of course not! We stay to course, remain vigilant and open to collective remedies and not individual agendas. Of course there are current best practices available, but we can also remind ourselves of the prolific teachings of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King to eliminate all injustices and equalities, which speak to all forms of bullying. The message is clear and consistent that no person on this planet deserves mal treatment. Individual ideas will not generate “the solution” but solutions to an end are possible as we align efforts and stand united.
One such bullying fatality became a part of the tragically growing list on May of 2010. An Oklahoma City youth, Ty Field-Smalley took his own life at age 11 after being suspended from school for retaliating against a bully. James Ramsey, Superintendent of Perkins Schools where Ty attended sixth grade, said “there’s no indication the bullying occurred.” Mr. Ramsey was not aware if any complaints were made to the principal’s office. There are similar haunting and disconcerting echoes throughout the world. To make sure their son’s name and short life was not in vain, Kurt Smalley works to save other children from bullying and to prevent what he called a “parent’s worst nightmare.”
On a mission the parents honor their son with a grass roots organization Stand for the Silent. Smalley said, “I’m not going to stop. I’ll fight bullying wherever it’s found,” Stand for the Silent exists as a platform to allow Kirk and Laura to share their story and offer education and tools that will prevent their tragedy from happening to another child and family. The Smalley family story is featured in the acclaimed film, “Bully,” directed by Lee Hirsch. In March of 2011 the couple accepted an invitation to the Whitehouse to meet and share their story with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Based on the results of the 2011 Lucas County (Youth), Ohio Health Assessment Project, bullying was recognized as a top concern. According to the study, 46% of Lucas County youth in grades 7-12 reported being bullied. Forty three percent of Lucas County youth in grades 5-6 reported being bullied. The glaring results are the impetus behind a community-wide response to address the problem. The three phase, year long initiative combines TV, radio, print and web, Town Halls and workshops for educators titled Preventing Bullying = Creating Safety, a collaborative effort of WGTE Public Media and Fostering Healthy Communities, funded by Mercy Health Partners, ProMedica and University of Toledo Medical Center. The three health providers have joined forces to raise community awareness through education and using best practices to increase youth safety by decreasing the incidence of bullying. Resources for parents, students and educators can be found at: www.preventingbullying.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.
Phase one was recently kicked off by the Smalley’s last March 25. The event gathered approximately 200 people of all ages at The University of Toledo Field House. Darren LaShelle, Director of Content and Creative Services for WGTE Public Media said “Kurt Smalley’s story is riveting and moved everyone to tears.” Phase one will continue on April 11 with a live TV Town Hall held at WGTE on issues surrounding bullying and its prevention. The town hall is limited but the community can participate by calling, texting or emailing questions for the panel of experts. On April 17 a day-long educator workshop titled; “School Violence Prevention and Response.” Educators can register online at: www.wgte.org or call 419-380-4634. Phase two will commence sometime in September with a second WGTE live Town Hall and educator workshop on identifying types of bullying and current responses. In January 2014 phase three will highlight community leaders and feature best practices occurring in Northwest Ohio.
Individuals do not create a culture of disrespect overnight. Likewise solutions to the problem will not occur by individuals, but can only be rectified with a community approach. There must be a harmonious concentrated approach by many to define the problem, find best practices and work together for the right solutions to an end bullying in Northwest Ohio. We don’t need anymore needless deaths or related tragedies that often surround bullying. All deserve to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect no matter what their sexual orientation, ethnic background, color of skin, disability, choice to be different or for any reason.