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April 18, 2012

Grieving father fights bullying



Kirk and Laura Smalley's life changed forever on May 13, 2010, when their son, Ty, killed himself in response to being bullied at school.

The mourning parents started Stand for the Silent, whose mission is "End bullying. Save lives." Kirk said that he and Laura had compiled a list of over 800 children who had committed suicide as a response to bullying. The youngest was a six-year-old boy.

Kirk Smalley spoke to Lincoln Elementary students on April 17 about what they can do to end bullying.

Stand for the Silent  has caught attention all over the world as well as garnered attention from political influences such as President Barack Obama and cultural influences such as Lady Gaga.

Smalley encouraged the students to be the difference in someone else's life, to seek out the students who are always by themselves and to befriend them.

"Be the one to go up to that kid and offer a hand of friendship," Smalley said.

The consequences of bullying, Smalley said, can be devastating.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States, after car accidents and one in four students have a plan to end their lives before graduation, according to Smalley. "In February, nine children committed suicide in Oklahoma alone."

"We've got to change that. We've got to make it stop" … "These aren't numbers. These are smiling, little freckled faces. People we know. People we love."

Smalley told the students that the power was in their hands.

"You can make this stop. Fact of the matter is, you're the only ones who can make this stop."

Students who are bullied usually hide the problem for fear of making the bullying worse, Smalley said.

He also covered the topic of cyberbullying.

"Thanks to technology, you can bully someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Stand for the Silent had the first ever conference on bullying at the White House with Barack and Michele Obama. Smalley told the students that while he did not vote for Obama, "Those two people, they care about you. They care about every single one of you." He said that Obama was bullied in school and cared strongly about the issue.

Smalley said that instead of inviting politicians who may be eager to pose for an "anti-bullying" shot, Obama invited those who might have a little more kid influence such as the president of Facebook, the president of MTV and the president of Cartoon Network. The United States Department of Justice was also called in to the conference.

That help, however, is not going to fix the problem on its own. Smalley told the students that it was up to the students to really send a message. He encouraged them to draw posters, make up songs and post them on YouTube or any way that they can use their talents to get out the message that bullying is wrong and to "stand for the silent."

To demonstrate what can happen when kids put their heads and hearts together, Smalley showed a video that was made by young people.

Afterwards he said, "Everything you just saw was made by a bunch of kids just like you."

For more information about Stand for the Silent, visit www.standforsilent.com.

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