bully, bullying, pulpit, carol costello, Candy Lightner, MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kirk Smalley, Western Heights High School, oklahoma city, Stand for the Silent, upward bound, filmmaker Lee Hirsch, "the bully project", Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Kevin Jennings, bullying summit,
By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff
Sometimes all it takes is one person.
In the minds of many, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in the white section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama sparked the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
Candy Lightner lost her 13-year-old daughter to a hit-and-run drunk driver in 1980. Her decision to co-found MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, led to a nationwide movement which has been instrumental in strengthening state and federal drunk driving laws.
Kirk Smalley wants to ignite another kind of movement, one that might have saved his 11-year old boy, Ty. He wants parents, kids, educators and “all those smart people out there” to come up with a plan to end bullying in our schools.
We caught up with Smalley at a rally at Western Heights High School at Oklahoma City. He was invited to speak at the invitation Upward Bound, whose Stand for the Silent campaign was inspired by Smalley’s one-man mission to end bullying in schools.
“I have to make a difference,” Smalley told the students. “I promised my son on Father’s Day this year I’d stop this from happening to another child.”
Smalley says that for years his son, Ty, struggled with a bully at school.
“He was always getting called names. You know, Ty was always pretty small for his age, and he’d get shoved, pushed here and there.”
Smalley says Ty was a typical kid with typical grades who took the abuse for two years. On the day Ty finally decided to push back—physically—he got into trouble for doing it. He was suspended from school. For Ty, that was too much to bear. On that day, last May, he killed himself. He was 11 years old.
Ty’s funeral was captured by independent filmmaker Lee Hirsch, in the upcoming documentary “The Bully Project” which documents the pain suffered by the bullied and their families across the nation.
The pain that Smalley feels is still palpable. “Ultimately,” he said, “my son’s safety rested in my hands. I was responsible for my son’s safety–I’m his Dad! It’s my job to protect him! No matter what.”
Assistant Deputy Education Secretary Kevin Jennings was appointed by President Obama to keep kids safe at school. Ty’s story could easily have been his own.
“I was bulled very severely when I was in junior high and high school,” he says. “And the first day of 10th grade I actually refused to go back to school because I simply wasn’t going to go back to a place where I was bullied every day.”
Jennings organized the nation’s first-ever bullying summit over the summer. But, even he admits it’s a baby step. Experts can’t even agree on how to define bullying. Is it physical? Electronic? Psychological? Non-verbal? All of the above?
“It’s taken us a long time to develop a bullying problem,” says Jennings. “It’s going to take us some time to solve it.”
There are no Federal guidelines that schools must follow to deal with bullying. They’re on their own. In Smalley’s home state of Oklahoma, each school district deals with bullying in different ways. It’s something else that infuriates Smalley.
“A lot of schools around the country, their answer to bullying is they let the victim leave a little bit early. They let them go home early to get a head start on the bully…You’re singling this child out! This child that’s been picked on, you’re singling him out now!”
Real solutions will come too late for Ty. But, Kirk Smalley is on that mission. He has spoken to scores of schools about the dangers of bullying and worked with Outward Bound to hold “Stand for the Silent” rallies around the nation.
“I’m not going to stop,” he told us. “I’ll fight bullying wherever it’s found. Schools. Work place. I’m not going to quit until bullying does….”
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