Over the years, I've been invited to many student productions of "Free to Be...You and Me," and my favorite thing about them is watching the kids take ownership of the material -- whether they're stylizing a song or reading a line to match their feeling. Adults often underestimate children's ability to grasp the heart of a concept -- or run with an idea of their own -- but we're wrong. They're a lot smarter and more take-charge than we think.
We're seeing that ability take hold now with bullying. Even as the adults in their lives try to stem this dangerous epidemic, kids who confront the terror every day know that they're at the center of the storm, and they have begun to realize that they have the power to take charge -- to stare down their fears and raise up their voices.
"Giving students a voice is the number one factor that most influences a change in culture, climate and academic performance," reads the mission statement of Utterly Global, an information-packed website that encourages student participation in its strategies to eradicate bullying. "Children are our greatest resource -- value them."
The simple, common-sense wisdom of this approach inspired me to search the web for examples of how kids are expressing their feelings about bullying, and what they're doing to take the reins in this battle. And I needed surf no further than YouTube. Below are a handful of videos I found, and each one, in its own way, gave me hope. Here are real kids -- some who have been bullied, some who have been bystanders, some who have even been the bullies themselves -- joining hands and taking a stand. "Wake up!" they seem to be telling the grownups of the world. "Our lives are at stake."
It all reminds me of that feeling my collaborators and I used to get when we were putting together "Free to Be" 40 years ago -- that deep and optimistic conviction that we could change the world one child at a time. The great difference is, now the kids are trying to do it themselves.
This fall, we'll be partnering with the Ad Council to help parents learn how to engage with their kids about bullying -- and I think one of the first things we'll do is show them some of the videos I found. All of them are exciting and inspiring, because they remind us of how fierce and creative children can be when they band together for something they believe in, and once again show us how much we can learn from them.
So take a look. Some of these videos have viewer numbers that are far too low, and we can help change that by forwarding them to our friends. Meantime, if you've found other videos like these, we'd love for you to share them with us. There's no such thing as too much hope.
After a local child in Cypress, Texas, took his own life as a result of bullying in September 2010, 1000 students from neighboring Cypress Ranch High School banded together to make a "lip-dub" video to send an urgent message about the deadly scourge of bullying. Written by 15-year-old sophomore Kaitlyn Knippers, who had been mercilessly bullied in grammar school, and produced by student council president Stewart Allen Oswald III, who played piano in the church where Kaitlyn sang, "Who Do U Think U R" debuted on YouTube on March 29, 2011. The lyrics are hard-hittng ("When you're out in the crowd knockin' little kids down/ Does it make you feel big? Does it make you feel proud?"), but the performance is pure grace.
In celebration of International Anti-Bullying Day in January 2011, an army of kids from two schools in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, stormed the Oakridge Center mall in a sudden flash-mob. Wearing their signature pink "Acceptance" t-shirts, and dancing to the words of Bruno Mars' "(You're Amazing) Just the Way You Are," the kids' energy is infectious -- and their message inescapable.
Bullied students at a local high school in Ohio joined forces with pop-punk band Life After Liftoff, starring in a music video that illustrates their determination not to give in to bullies. In partnership with the anti-bullying group Defeat The Label, Life After Liftoff (whose band members were themselves bullied) continues to spread awareness about the bullying epidemic. Including the Ohio school kids in their "Brand New Life" video went a long way toward achieving that goal.
Encouraging students who witness bullying to "share what you see, hear or know with an adult or in a safe way as soon as possible!" the Hero in the Hallway organization remains at the cutting of empowering students to prevent violence in their schools. Its 2007 video, set to Simple Plan's driving anthem, "Welcome to My Life," remains an inspiration to the anti-bullying movement, and features a vibrant throng of elementary and high school students from Illinois who brim with energy, optimism and defiance in the face of bullying.
As part of the Department of Education's Bullying Prevention School Tour, a pack of Team Urban Individuals tore through elementary, middle and high schools, demonstrating firsthand how to put an end to bullying by seeking alternate outlets, such as dancing, singing and playing sports. It is virtually impossible to watch this video without being inspired by the kids' uplifting message.
No big production numbers, no fancy dancing -- just a brilliantly executed video collage created by a couple of kids who had a message they wanted to deliver. Their YouTube description reads: "We decided to make an awesome Anti-Bullying vid for our school! This is what resulted in my explosion of ideas! We worked very hard and hope you like it! Love, Lauren and Alex!"
Posted last month on YouTube by a student who chose not to leave his or her name--and set to the song "Perfect" by Pink--this self-described "simple video" assembles photographs found on the web to illustrate how the anguish of bullying can ultimately be vanquished by the power of friendship. The video "expresses how bullying can affect many poor children's lives," writes the poster, and was made "for schools around the world. I hope this video is put to good use."
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