'Bully' sparks activists, parents, teachers to stop the violence
By Kate Opalewski
Originally printed 3/15/2012 (Issue 2011 - Between The Lines News)
Bullying isn't something that can be stopped by school policies or legislation alone - it's up to the individual to create change. That was the overall message during a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon following the Michigan premiere of the film "Bully" at the Palladium 12 Theatre in Birmingham.
At the Second Annual Uptown Film Festival, the national anti-bullying group, Defeat the Label, hosted the event in collaboration with the Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. The purpose was to educate the local audience about the dangers of bullying and effective ways to identify and respond to bullying when it occurs.
On the panel was Darren Ofiara, detective sergeant with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office; Michelle Klein, a West Bloomfield-based social worker who specializes in working with adolescents; high school counselor Lisa Graff; JoAnn Andrees, superintendent of the West Bloomfield School District; local area seventh grader Ethan Wolf and his father Richard; as well as Kevin Epling, father of Matt Epling, a Michigan teen who committed suicide in 2002 after being bullied.
"We stand witness to it, but few times do we come forward," said Wolf. "This was the most poignant film I've ever seen."
The film, which follows five bullied children and their families during the 2009-2010 school year, has stirred some controversy after Katy Butler from Ann Arbor made a valiant effort to overturn the film's R rating, which would prevent teen audiences from seeing it. The Motion Picture Association of American turned down the most recent appeal for the rating change, citing multiple instances of profanity during the film.
"It's not about passing and making policies. It's about how we treat each other as human beings," Andrees said. "We have to be proactive in this movement rather than wait for something to happen."
"We have to be honest about this problem. The suicide rate is astounding. We must treat it as the major problem it is. Kids are going to make a change if we give them the tools," said Epling.
A concern for some panelists and audience members are the covert forms of bullying like cyber bullying, mean-spirited gossiping or lunchroom politics. In response, Epling drew attention to Matt's Safe School Law http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/SBE_Model_AntiBullying_Policy_Revised_9.8_172355_7.pdf, which was signed into law in Dec. 2011. He urged parents to attend open school meetings to ensure anti-bullying policies are being developed properly before schools turn them into the State Board of Education for approval.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools, more than 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the United States.
"One of the biggest problems when it comes to bullying is adults," said Epling. "Adults don't want to change, to acknowledge this is a problem. But by doing this and talking about this, we're saving lives everyday."
Ofiara said parents need to "dig" and need to "be more highly involved" in the lives of their children. His fellow panelists agreed that parents must communicate better and prepare themselves for more honest discussions. To help parents and school officials learn more about the anti-bullying movement, Betsy Kellman, regional director for the Michigan Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, referred them to their website, http://www.adl.org, for resources, school curriculum guides and more.
"I don't have a tragic story to share, but that doesn't mean I don't care," said Jeff Sakwa, president of the Michigan chapter of Defeat the Label. "I'm passionate about education and I want to help give kids a safe environment to learn."
Defeat the Label, which is getting under way and stirring up support, has designated May 4 as "Stand Up Against Bullying Day," which encourages every American student to physically stand up at 12 p.m. eastern standard time on that date as part of a silent protest against bullying. Through various forms of fundraising, the organization will use a portion of their proceeds to launch a 24-hour anti-bullying hotline.
Students are urged to visit http://www.defeatthelabel.com and nominate their school to "join the movement." The top schools with the most nominations could win appearances by celebrities, autographed goods and more. The group's cause is celebrity-laden, but Sakwa said, "A lot of celebrities and movie stars were actually bullied, which is why they honed in on their craft. They're all so happy to help us, and kids really respond well to celebs. If they were bullied, and they're OK now, it gives kids hope."
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