"What's next?" That was the question from Esta Soler, founder and president of Futures without Violence, and a longtime colleague of ours, as well as a huge supporter and advisor of the film Bully. We were discussing community outreach around the documentary, and Esta, who loves the film, knows its power, and also knows a lot about changing social norms, was right on target.
Everyone involved with Bully, including Esta, agrees that the film has been a tipping point in the anti-bullying movement, something that writer-director Lee Hirsch and writer-producer Cynthia Lowen always hoped would result from their heart wrenching, realistic and moving film.
But what she was asking, along with Lee and Cynthia, and all of the film's funders and advisors, was, "What are the next steps, how do we follow through, and essentially... what's the sequel?"
The best of sequels to Bully isn't another film. Harvey Weinstein knows that. The 90 minute movie, our crucial in-school curriculum and important town hall discussions are just the start. It's a day-to-day commitment and it doesn't end. Ever. That's the sequel.
When Lee first contacted the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention in the spring of 2009 to find out about our decade long commitment to violence prevention and our pilot programs, we could hear the undeniable passion he brought to the project. That's why we signed on, and that's why we opened the doors to the Sioux City schools. We saw Lee and Cynthia work literally non-stop for over two years to tell the stories of the kids and families whose lives had been devastated by the daily assaults they faced. They filmed in Iowa, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and in Sioux City, they gathered footage in the buses, classrooms, hallways and administrator's offices of the only school system in the country who would let them in. They were and still are, the real deal, and the film they made has exploded in the public consciousness in ways that we couldn't have imagined.
You don't have to be a filmmaker to stand up to bullies. We can all do something, as parents, educators, volunteers, students, and schools to help stop them in their tracks, or at the very least, decrease the day-to-day incidents that put our kids and families at risk. It takes time to change school culture, (some research suggests it can be up to 6 to 10 years for a total transformation), but we've seen the needles move in schools who keep at it over time. It can and does work and you can help.
Here are some steps that, in addition to seeing the film, we recommend:
1. Act locally. Bullying is happening right now, in your schools and in your community. It's everywhere. Though a national stage has been essential to this movement, the real work gets done right where you live. Form an anti-bullying community-wide task
force and gather data about what bullying looks like in your town, and work together towards an achievable goal to decrease bullying and violence. Include representatives from schools, coaches, mentors, community and business leaders, and students. also demonstrates the need to address bullying from an entire community perspective. Change happens when everyone comes to the same table.
2. Parents, get involved... now. It's no longer permissible to put the blame solely on the schools. In research done in Sioux City, Iowa between, 2008-2011, with over 5,000 students aged 11-17, we found that parents still outscore teachers, mentors, and coaches as influencers on their children when it comes to teaching them that bullying and dating violence are wrong. Know the signs that your child is being bullied, and talk to them about it. If they aren't, they've seen it. Encourage them in ways to safely intervene. We've joined AOL, Facebook and Marlo Thomas's Free to Be Foundation in a new Ad Council campaign coming this fall that speaks directly to the role parents can have in preventing bullying.
3. Kids, stand up, don't stand by. Younger peers listen to you, and bullying generally isn't done one on one. If you see it, which you do, learn ways to help. It's great having adults instruct and guide younger students through the elementary and early middle schools on lessons related to anger management, empathy, problem solving, conflict resolution, and bystander prevention, but transitioning and shifting the responsibility onto capable and competent adolescent leaders can be extremely powerful. Be a voice in your school and speak to them about investing the time and resources into a bystander education and prevention model. Only about a third of schools nationally are doing it. Be the one to ask for it.
4. Practice what you preach. Look in the mirror. What are you modeling as parents and role models to kids? How do you treat your spouse, your children, or your colleagues? If you are a politician or policy maker, watch what you say, people are listening. Lee Hirsch's original treatment for what was then, "The Bully Project" was going to highlight school bullying as part of the larger societal plague of abuse in the home, the workplace, and the world. He had a point. Kids watch us and learn from us. Teach them early and teach them often by your actions.
5. If you have a following, use it, and if you don't have a following, build one. No one had ever heard of Katy Butler, a student from Michigan who had suffered at the hands of bullies and who used the power of social media to gather over a half a million signatures to make the film accessible to children under 17. It worked. It was more than the ratings controversy that drove the national media to follow the story. It took high-profile people with followings. Harvey Weinstein leveraged his considerable contacts everywhere to get the message out, and he was joined by Meryl Streep, Justin Bieber, Marlo Thomas, Kelly Ripa, Anderson Cooper, Whoopi Goldberg and countless others. Some of them started long before the story became a cause celebre, and kept it up. Some of you are local celebrities. Use It.
6. Get out your checkbook. Again, do it where you live, or where you grew up. If everyone who signed the MPAA petition would give just $10, you'd have millions in contributions. School budgets are strapped for cash and economic resources. Sponsor a screening of Bully in your town, give to your local school foundation, and find out where you can put your dollars. Public funds have been reduced significantly over the past decade and school leaders are continually asked to do more with less. That's where the entire community comes in -- it's about all of us -- working together and contributing where and when we can. No one gets a free pass on bullying and violence prevention if we truly want our schools and communities to promote healthy and respectful relationships for everyone.
Cindy Waitt is the Executive Director of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention and Executive Producer of "Bully". She co sponsored the first Workplace Bullying Zogby Poll in the United States in 2007, and, with her brother, Ted, has been a lead supporter of Futures without Violence's campaign "Coaching Boys into Men" and Jackson Katz's "Mentors in Violence Prevention" for the past decade. She is Executive Producer, with Gloria Steinem and Kit Gruelle, of the upcoming documentary "Private Violence: the anti battering movement in America".
Dr. Alan Heisterkamp, Director, MVP Leadership Institute at the University of Northern Iowa, was the Education Consultant for "Bully" and directed the "Sioux City Project" research study for the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention, 2007 - 2011. He implemented the first high school gender violence, bystander intervention program (Mentors in Violence Prevention) in the state of Iowa in 1999-2000, as well as, the first "pilot research study" of Futures without Violence's Coaching Boys into Men program in the country in 2007.
Follow Cindy Waitt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cindywaitt