A tall fashionably-dressed teen ducked into line at the open mike, waiting for her turn to speak. When the group leader nodded to her to begin, the girl tried to talk but dissolved into sobs. The room remained silent, the other freshman waiting until the weeping girl could get her words out. She cried openly as she described how her supposed best friends have turned on her without provocation, spreading rumors about her being a slut and leaving her socially isolated and depressed.
A handsome African American boy took a turn, telling how he does not believe in fighting, and even though he has been beaten up, he won’t fight back. He just gets attacked, and he keeps believing in peace.
A dark-haired girl cried as she spoke about how her family has moved repeatedly throughout her childhood, and at each school, the other kids have targeted her and tormented her relentlessly. She has never fit in. She is hoping it will be different in high school.
A Jewish boy began to speak about how other students at his middle school ostracized him after he wore his yarmulke to school. They taunted him and beat him up and even drew swastikas in front of his house. He broke down, crying so hard that he couldn’t speak for several full minutes. The room remained silent, respectful, listening.
One after another after another, kids made their way to the mike, sharing their most vulnerable painful stories with their new freshman classmates. There was no consistency to the speakers other than that they were victims of bullying. African American, Latino, Asian, Caucasian, biracial, tall, short, heavy, skinny, gay, straight, nerds, basketball players – apparently bullies do not discriminate in their discrimination. Anyone can become a target.
The kids repeatedly spoke of their bewilderment. “Why is this happening to me?” “What did I do wrong to deserve this?” “Why does everyone call me a fat B or a slut?” Desperate to deflect the attention of their bullies, the kids commonly told of how they became silent in school. “I lost my voice.” “I hid in the bathroom during lunch.” “I was afraid to speak in class.”
All of these kids were participating in the Names Can Really Hurt Us Assembly Program, which is run by the Anti-Defamation League’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute. Yesterday, I spent the morning at a Chicagoland high school observing the assembly, deeply moved by the bravery of the students who decided to share their stories.
As each freshman completed telling his or her story, the room applauded, and an older student who had been specially trained as a mentor provided hugs, Kleenex, and support. Teams of trained student mentors lined the room, as did social workers and teachers, each eager to provide follow-up support. The woman who was moderating the assembly did a phenomenal job of managing the delicate flow of the open mike, and she repeatedly reminded the students that this was a safe, confidential forum.
After the open mike, the students moved into small break-out groups, and then reconvened in the auditorium to problem solve.
For those of you who are looking to bring bullying out of the darkness and expose it to the light, please consider bringing the Names Can Really Hurt Us Program into your high schools. Below is a description of the program, as provided by the ADL:
Names Can Really Hurt Us Assembly Program Structure
Prior to the Assembly
A team of students and faculty prepare and rehearse for two to three months with A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute facilitators to insure a powerful and relevant assembly.
The Assembly Agenda
1. Introduction and Overview
2. Names Can Really Hurt Us video
3. Student Panel
- Student panelists tell personal experiences with name-calling, exclusion or other prejudicial acts. This creates a safe atmosphere where students begin to feel free to talk about difficult issues.
4. Audience Questions and Comments
- An A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute consultant moderates audience questions and comments in response to the panelists’ stories and messages.
5. Small Group Discussions: Assessment and Planning
- Student-facilitated groups discuss the issues raised in the video and student presentations. Students share perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the current campus environment and propose action for improvement.
6. Small Group Reports to Full Assembly
- Students return to the full assembly to share ideas. Students sign up to participate in development of action plans.
After the Assembly
Names Can Really Hurt Us staff provides the school with support to help insure lasting improvement to the school environment.
• Teachers are encouraged to integrate the assembly concepts into class work.
• Names Can Really Hurt Us staff continues to work with faculty and students to assist with ideas and logistics.
• Additional A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute programs are made available to the entire school community.
October is Anti-Bullying month. Let’s take actions in our communities to provide safe places for our children. This is just one example of a concrete action your school can take to make a difference. Let's help our silenced kids find their voices again.