I have always prided myself on being the optimistic sort, confident that there is no challenge that can’t be met in some way. I’ve always felt that nothing is impossible.
But I have to confess that it is hard — damn hard — to feel hopeful about the bullying crisis in this nation, not when it continues to take kids lives.
Not when 17-year-old Katlin Loux of Bossier Parish in Louisiana fatally hangs herself because the cruel and chronic bullying at school became just too much to bear.
Not when 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick of Lakeland, Florida, throws herself off a tower, dying on impact, after being bombarded day after day by online bullies with taunts like “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself.”
Not when we know that three out of four children will witness bullying during the course of their day, and, more often than we’d care to admit, not lend a hand.
But hope is on the way. Because for every Katlin and Rebecca in this country — for every child who feels so desperately hopeless that suicide is, inconceivably, the only answer — there is someone who is taking action.
Like high school football coach Matt Labrum of Roosevelt, Utah, who suspended all 80 members of his team after learning about an outbreak of cyberbullying that involved his players. “The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field,” Labrum admonished his students. And his message shot around the world.
Or San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, whose second annual “Bye Bye Bullying” contest offers a $250 gift certificate and a signed baseball from the San Francisco Giants to any local middle or high school student who can make the best 60-second video about cyber-bullying. The winner will be announced in December.
Or film director Lee Hirsch, whose bracing — terrifying — 2012 documentary “Bully” threw down the gauntlet once and for all, revealing to parents, guardians and educators everywhere their own complicity in this national scourge. As long as they remained on the sidelines, the film boldly suggests — not getting involved, turning a blind eye to the crisis — they are no better than the bystanders who witness the bullying itself.
“We wanted the audience to discover for themselves how they can make [anti-bullying] their cause,” Hirsch said after the film’s release. “It is a simple call to action which says: ‘Find a way to make a difference.'”
In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, Hirsch partnered with the Ad Council and DDB to create a new public service ad as part of the anti-bullying campaign that we launched in 2012, in partnership with the Ad Council, the Department of Education and committed companies like AOL, Facebook, Adobe Foundation, Arcus Foundation, Johnson and Johnson and the Free to Be Foundation. The campaign urges parents to talk to their kids about how to be more than a bystander and directs them to visit StopBullying.gov for tips and resources. I hope you’ll watch the ad here, and see once again how children who are bullied in America are issuing a silent scream for help.
It is up to us to listen for that scream. And to act. Tragically, it is too late for Kaitlin and Rebecca Ann, but their deaths should compel all of us to make the fight our own.
“This is why we are forging a war against bullying,” Katlin’s mother, Evelyn, wrote in a heartbreaking post on her daughter’s Facebook page (now a memorial page), beneath a photo of Katlin’s grave. “We will always miss our Katlin, the pain will never go away. Together we can keep this tragedy from happening again.”
What a loving heart this woman has — to suffer the deepest loss a parent can experience, yet muster the strength to care for and protect all of our children.
I hope you’ll take a look at the clips we assembled below. They are drawn from the many conversations about the bullying crisis that we have had on this website with people in the know over the past few years — from Anderson Cooper and Rosie O’Donnell to experts like “Seventeen” magazine Editor-In-Chief Ann Shoket. What they have to say about this ongoing problem is thoughtful and enlightening — and hopefully it will inspire you to take a stand.
We must remain hopeful. We must remain committed. Because we are all in this together.
Follow Marlo Thomas on Twitter: twitter.com/MarloThomas.