Google+

Empathy In Motion: Students Stand Together Against Bullying

 

Thursday, August 29th and Friday, August 30th, 2013, I saw empathy in action. Spending two days in the presence of Kirk Smalley andEmpathy his Stand For The Silent messageI was paralyzed with hope as countless hearts were changed and lives were saved. Delivering his deeply personal narrative depicting the loss of his son – Ty Smalley – while simultaneously honoring the deaths of 55,000 other young people to suicide as the result of bullying, Kirk is able to reach in and connect with students, educators, and parents breaking down attitudes of exclusion and intolerance and replacing them with mutual love, respect, and support.  Kirk’s presentations at six school sites and one community screening of the film Bully (in which Kirk’s family is profiled) have left indelible images of the best of humanity and of the spirit of resiliency in the hearts and minds of those who were present.

Sitting on the sidelines during Kirk’s message and witnessing an open dynamic exchange of empathy, these moments will be with me forever…

  • Hundreds of noisy, energetic, restless youth scramble to their seats awaiting the start of their assembly. Within moments of Kirk’s first words, middle schoolers stop fidgeting; high schoolers lose their attitudes. An unfamiliar quiet sets in.
  • After learning or being reminded of the American Sign Language hand formation for love and… understanding that it can also mean “I respect you…I have your back…I support you”, thousands of little and large hands spontaneously and continually pop up throughout Kirk’s message.One little boy crouched on the floor in front of me holds up his two tiny hands throughout the entire ninety  minute talk.  Another special needs’ young man sitting next to me struggles to hold down the ring and middle fingers with his free hand so his pinky, pointer and thumb will cooperate – so he can show his love and support to Kirk.

As Kirk relates the painful loss of his son to suicide because of bullying, two little girls sitting next to each other give him their loving hand sign with their outside hands, using their inside arms and hands to create a heart together – holding it steady and sending it out to Kirk.

  • Hearing the personal tragedies of five other children lost to suicide because of bullying, children catch their tears with shirt sleeves and wipe their faces with grubby fingers while adults frantically search for pieces of tissue. Students lean in to one another, teachers put their arms around young ones and older ones too, and stray adults draw closer to one another. All across the gymnasium, a sea of loving hand signs ebb and tide towards Kirk, and one another.
  • As Kirk moves into the theme of suicide making reference to his precious son and countless others, two boys leave their seats and walk toward Ty’s large photo displayed on the gymnasium floor. They remove their “I Am Somebody” bracelets and lay them gently around the corners of Ty’s picture.
  • In each assembly, Kirk asks the students to raise their hands if “…you have ever been picked on, called names, been made fun of or excluded….been bullied”.  Almost every hand goes up. A collective ache sets in the room couched in a blanket of compassion for one another. Students hold the hands of one another and hold each other more tightly. Kirk looks them straight in their eyes and says, “I love you.”
  • Shortly thereafter, Kirk asks the audience a ‘tougher’ question, “….Will you raise your hand if you are a bully now”.  A few hands go up quickly; a few others take their time. Without hesitation, Kirk responds, “I love you, too” , sending out his hand sign. Kirk walks over to a high school football player who has raised his hand – who is shaken by the question and by his sudden ownership.  Kirk sits down in front of him and repeats, “I love you, too.” Tears flow down the young man’s face; his head lowers in shame. He is visibly distraught as Kirk stays with him, encouraging him to ‘be the hero he is capable of being’.  Several moments later, as Kirk is speaking, another lone arm raises obscurely within the crowd.  Kirk pauses, giving him the space to talk. With hundreds of eyes on him, the tall lean young man chokes and whispers, “I am a bully, too”.  Kirk responds, “I love you…. you can change that, can’t you?” The broken boy nods. Hand signs of love are raised in his direction.
  • As Kirk continues to share the staggering statistics of youth suicide – one in four will not only think about suicide but will have a plan to take his/her own life before graduating from high school. And as he weaves in the theme that ‘everyone has a right to be here….everyone is special….everyone is somebody’, hope and healing fill the room. Suddenly, at one school, a young girl sitting high up in the bleachers stands up and holds her hand high in the air, sending out the love sign. A few more join in, then more; then within moments, all are standing.  Over 700 young people are on their feet – standing in solidarity – standing against bullying. Teachers, administrators and support staff are crying – welling with pride, compassion, and love.
  • Moving into the later part of his message, Kirk talks about ‘his belief in young people…how they can be the change…how it doesn’t cost anything to treat one another with respect, love, and dignity…how they can Stand For The Silent and each other through their actions, their words, and their commitment to be the change’. Trying desperately but unsuccessfully to hold back his own tears, Kirk delivers his final plea, “This is not an option…we cannot lose another baby…”. Eyes are wiped and are wide open. Minds are swept clean of past pain making way for a pathway to change. Kirk invites those who are willing and ready to recite the Stand ForThe Silent Pledge. As a chorus of confident voices responds, Kirk concludes his message providing materials and resources for sustaining their commitment to change. Knowing the assembly is coming to a close, students ready themselves to dash toward him.
  • Without exception, at every presentation, Kirk is met with a swarm of students. Some need a hug – some need to hug him. Others melt into his tall lanky body, wanting to absorb his comfort and his compassion. Many want to share their stories, knowing he will encourage and support them. And still, there are others, like a young boy who stood in line, waiting his turn and sobbing uncontrollably. And when Kirk reached out to him, this fragile precious little guy managed to choke out the words, “You changed my life today….”. Kirk’s long arms engulfed him into a embrace of safety and of support.

With our children’s lives filled with incredible hardship and harshness from a myriad of sources in our world today, it is a wonder that their little hearts are hurting and in many cases hardened. And then, a stranger comes along delivering an empathic message of respect, support and love for all – and an authentic softening towards the differences and uniqueness of one another takes hold. Kirk’s audiences learn that if we are ever going to get a handle on this toxic tide of anti-social bullying behavior, we must provide dialogue that creates awareness and understanding and that opens our hearts to change and to compassion. And because Kirk’s Stand For The Silent message provides the opportunity to be a part of and to experience firsthand the goodness of the human spirit present and at work, we learn or relearn to respect and regard the right of each and every human being to ‘be here and be who he/she is’.

Kirk Smalley’s message embraces the power of empathy – an antidote to bullying. And although it is often a rare commodity in our society, today, if someone were to ask me if our kids ‘got empathy?’ I can answer unequivocally,

These ‘3,000 Students Do!’   

A note of appreciation… It is amazing what can happen when a community comes together to join in the support of a valley wide Anti-Bullying Event.  I want to express my gratitude to the following sponsors:  

The Prescott Film Festival, The Elks Theatre & Performing Arts Center, AAUW, MATForce, Arizona Parents’ Commission On Drug Education And Prevention – 

Governor’s Office For Children, Youth and Families, 

Yavapai County Education Service Agency, 

 Unified Schools Districts of Chino Valley, Humboldt, and Prescott. 

About the Author

Currently based in Arizona, recovery expert Holli Kenley’s latest book Mountain Air: Relapsing And Finding The Way Back One Breath At A Time, published in 2013, tells her the story of her personal journey through relapse and a powerful journey back to recovering. For updates and more information about the author’s work, visit her website www.HolliKenley.com.

Entertainment

Mark Wahlberg Vehicle Revisits BP Oil Spill

  Deepwater Horizon Blu-Ray Review by Kam Williams Mark Wahlberg Vehicle Revisits BP Oil Spill On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded when high-pressure methane gas blew out the drill pipe. 11 members of the crew perished in the ensuing fiery inferno which engulfed the platform. The accident also caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, with over 200 million … [Read More its Good for You.....]

Books

Concerned Father Creates Children’s Book Series To Help Make Learning About Valuable Black History Information Fun Again

  Concerned Father Creates Children's Book Series To Help Make Learning About Valuable Black History Information Fun Again   Orlando, FL (January 16, 2017) – EOTO Books & Publishing announced today the immediate release of “The Christopher OluFela Series of Books for Kids” written by father and creative children’s picture book author Lee Chavous. The books take a unique approach to inform young readers of a rich African American … [Read More its Good for You...]

Art

The Day After the Day Of

  The Day After the Day Of by Paul Ilechko   The sky sheds its tears. This morning is the morning of the day after. The day of mourning, the day after the day of.  I beseech the sky to shed tears in order to wash away the tears on my face.   This is the first day of the time after. This is the beginning of a new time, the days of pain, the days of sorrow. We are in mourning. The sky looks down and sheds its tears for … [Read More its Good For You...]

Real Estate

History Being Sold to the Highest Bidder

  History Being Sold to the Highest Bidder by Amy Lignor   For the longest time, scientists and archaeologists have been confused and bemused by various discoveries they’ve unearthed that offer little or no explanation as to the who, what, and why of the people who created these things or left them behind. Even now, in 2017, there are discoveries being studied; stories that were once legends now have actual bits of proof being found that … [Read More its Good for You.....]

Lifestyle

Groundswell for Chazelle!

  Damien Chazelle The “La La Land” Interview with Kam Williams Groundswell for Chazelle! Damien Chazelle wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning Whiplash which landed five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle. The movie won a trio of Oscars in the Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons) categories. In 2013, his short film of the same name won the Short Film … [Read More its Good for You...]

Outdoors

Carolina Skiff at Miami’s Favorite Boat Show

  Carolina Skiff at Miami's Favorite Boat Show By Craig Lamb You might say “new” is a reoccurring theme of Miami’s favorite boat show coming up soon. A new location with hundreds of new boats, including never-before-seen models being debuted by Carolina Skiff, is a great way to kick off the season. Few boat shows offer buyers the chance to see new boats where they ultimately belong—floating on the water in a real time setting. You can … [Read More its Good for You...]

Sports

Can Troy Aikman Win MVP?

  Can Troy Aikman Win MVP? by Amy Lignor   What a strange title for an article, aye? Of course the ‘old man’ of the Dallas Cowboys can’t win MVP. Troy Aikman was an elite QB, with three Super Bowl rings to prove that fact. However, Aikman hasn’t actually suited-up since leaving behind his Cowboys uniform in 2001. The number one overall draft pick in 1989, Aikman was the MVP of Super Bowl XXVII, and was elected to the Pro Football … [Read More its Good for You...]

Business

Spotlight on Africa

  Spotlight on Africa by Amy Lignor   As the year winds down and comes to a close, it is Africa that is receiving some headlines that call for many changes and improvements to be made in the coming years. It was Ambassador Amina Mohamed (Nairobi, Kenya) that spoke recently about the African Union Commission (AUC) and how the group must provide leadership in the coming years. After all, the nation of Africa is, in truth, the cradle … [Read More its Good for You...]

Travel

The Grandest New Year’s Celebrations Around the World

    The Grandest New Year’s Celebrations Around the World by Amy Lignor   Oh, yes…there are many, many places to travel in order to ring in that New Year in style. Some people have already stated that they see 2017 becoming one of the ‘best of the best’ years the world has ever seen – from technology to business to education to even “going greener” – heck, green has even been chosen as the top color of 2017. But where should you … [Read More its Good for You...]

Green Living

2017 Will Be Green!

    2017 Will Be Green! by Amy Lignor   This statement is not a “hopeful” imagination talking; it is actually quite true. Very recently the Pantone Color Institute declared that green will most definitely be THE color for 2017. This is a company that calls themselves the “global color authority,” and states that everything from high fashion to trends will be on the green path throughout next year. So…when we look at a “green” … [Read More its Good for You...]