Five empty chairs sit alone at the front of the stage. They will represent children who have committed suicide because of relentless bullying.
Five students will read the story of each of those children, from high school to age 6, during a program Tuesday [APRIL 19] at East Central University.
Kirk Smalley of Perkins, the father of an 11-year-old boy who committed suicide after being bullied at school, will talk about the life-and-death consequences of bullying and ways to prevent it. His presentation, part of the “Stand For The Silent” program, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Ataloa Theatre in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. It is free and open to the public.
“He lets you see what can happen if you don’t put a stop to it,” said Amy Eckart-Gregg, ECU’s Graduate School secretary who organized the program at ECU. “Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. It happens in the workplace, and it’s involved in road rage. He will show ways to deal with it in a positive way.”
She said students from the 4th to 12th grades at Asher and Macomb will read the dead children’s stories.
Smalley’s son, Ty, described as a typical shaggy-haired, playful kid, took his own life on May 13, 2010, after a long period of being bullied. Smalley later was contacted by Francie Moss about helping start Stand For The Silent. She is the director of the organization that also was created to tackle adolescent depression.
At first, a group of Upward Bound students decided to take a stand and be the difference for the silent, or youngsters who are being bullied.
“He’s trying to get the word out,” Eckart-Gregg said, “because it takes everyone to help. He’s a very good speaker. He works in construction and does this, too. He really impacts a lot because he is personal.”
Smalley also talks with students and others on Stand For The Silent’s Facebook page.
“It (bullying) will stop when we make it stop,” Smalley wrote in one response, “and it is going to take all of us and all of us have to stand up and say enough. We have to continue to spread the message to as many as possible as rapidly as we can before this happens to another child.”
Eckart-Gregg said Smalley makes quite an impact on schools he visits.
“It’s always very quiet at the end the program. All you can hear are sniffles.”
She said she supports Smalley’s program because it works. Her family has been affected by bullies, but fortunately the outcome is much different.
“He shows you ways to deal with bullying in a positive way,” she explained. “He tries to teach people that when they are being bullied, they and their supporters should go to the bully, tell him or her they understand what the bully is doing, but that ‘we still love you.’ It’s the killing with kindness approach. It’s really working.”
Bullies don’t see what they are doing to others and their families, she said. And often, when the bullied child strikes back at the bully, it is the bullied child who gets in trouble at school. That’s what happened to Ty Smalley. He was suspended from school for fighting – the same day he committed suicide.
Eckart-Gregg said her own child is now becoming a friend of his former bully.
“If they can do it, it can happen,” she said. “It’s amazing how (this approach) has affected just one child.”
The goal of the Stand for the Silent program is to start an SFTS chapter at each participating site with students who are committed to change and will no longer stand for one in four of their peers suffering at the hands of a bully.
At the end of each SFTS event, pledge cards are given to those who agree to stand for the silent. The pledge speaks of respect and love...hope and aspiration. Above all, it illustrates the main lesson taught through the Stand For The Silent program: I AM SOMEBODY.
Smalley is trying to spread his message across the nation and the world. Last Father’s Day he promised Ty he would do everything possible to stop bullying. In August a silent vigil spread from the state Capitol to 20 other states and Australia, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Canada and the United Kingdom to show love and respect for those who suffer because of bullies. He also supported the need for legislation concerning bullying activity.
In March, Smalley was a special guest at a bullying youth speak-out at the state Capitol, and he and his wife attended a White House Conference on Bullying Prevention at the White House that was opened by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
In less than a year, Smalley has had requests to speak in a dozen states across the country. Because he’s using his life's savings to reach as many children as possible, more than 30,000 students from 50 schools have heard the message that they are somebody.
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