â€œWe want to put bullying in our rear view mirror.Â Our goal is to have a million students see this film.â€Â As I sat in the screening room filled almost full with a mix of educators, students, media, VIPâ€™s, and members of the elite squad known as teachers at the National Education Association (NEA) building, the entire crowd nodded in tepid agreement with â€œBULLYâ€director Lee Hirsch, who was the last to be introduced on stage. With him was Dennis Van Roekel, NEA President who acted as â€œemceeâ€ of the pre-screening run of show, Randi Weingarten, American Teachers Federation President and Rosalyn Ali, assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights.
All had given their 2-5 minute impassioned speech on why this anti-bullying movement was so important and why so many partners nationally, were involved.Â The BULLY Project is a call to action for YOUTH, the groupâ€™s message was loud and clear, that the youth had the power to stop bullying, yet teachers, the union, the corporate world, even the White House are now all holding hands together and taking a stern foothold on this verbal and physical abusive epidemic which has lasted for decades and has taken this country to its brink.
Students should feel safe, when they are not in a safe environment, they canâ€™t learn, said former teacher Randi Weingarten.
There were more echoed sentiments reflecting her words from all of the parties with the microphone, but we, the audience, wanted to get on with the show.Â Obviously Lee and co. were setting us up for the dramatic experience we were about to encounter, but as Lee, who has worked on this documentary for three years and as he had stated itâ€™s a dream come true, he left us with, â€œEnjoy, well, no, â€˜enjoyâ€™ is a weird word, I would say, â€˜feelâ€™ the movie.â€
And â€˜feelâ€™ we did.
I wonâ€™t spoil this film because I want everyone to SEE it.Â I believe there is no reason, whether you were every slightly or fully bullied or not, or have children or not, or are a teacher or not, or have any type of relationship with the education system or not, or even if you were a bully yourself or not, to NOT see this movie. None. Because unless you are from the future and are actually a robot, you are a human being and every damn human should take some time out of your day or night and find a way to watch BULLY.Â Now, with partnerships, there are avenues that will get this film to students and teachers via www.DonorsChoose.org but as the energy and hype continues across the country online and in person, hopefully these kids whom are victims of bullying can finally face their perpetrators.
Hereâ€™s a bit about the film.Â Itâ€™s entirely set in rural towns, which begs the question, is bullying only in small country southern / midwest areas? Um, no, it happens everywhere. However, we only are privy to a few families and the tragic effects bullying has had on them. The lens follows the kids, the families, undercover, even on the bus, and in the open, with interviews that will break your heart, and make you angry, and make you want to find out the address and phone numbers of these blind and deaf and dumb people (the once lukewarm energy of the audience garnered emotion soon within the film, you could hear gasps, tsks, â€œoh my lord!â€â€™s, even, â€œno, no, no!â€ and many a sniffle) and reach across into the large screen and hug these children who letâ€™s remember, are born innocent.Â Are born and brought into this world where we hope they will make it better because people, older, younger, their own age, are kind, and gentle, loving and humane. Wrong.
We learn of the story of Tyler, who killed himself, he was a quiet, different boy. Thereâ€™s Alex, 12 who takes up a lot of screen time, is bullied so much that you fear the impending violence that soon will take place. Heâ€™s called Fish Face, heâ€™s terrorized on the bus, even his own sister teases him.Â Thereâ€™s Devon, who tells us he finally had to stand up for himself, saying â€œItâ€™s a damn shame that Tyler had to do what he did to have the situation get noticed.â€Â Thereâ€™s the two girls in the film, one fights back on the bus and is sent to Juvenile Detention, breaking the hearts of her single mother and her family and the sweet lesbian, who not only finds love in her girlfriend, but in her family who supports her, yet the entire town turns their back on the family and she herself is shunned and made to feel inhuman everyday.Â She tells us of how six boys in a van ran her over.
There are more stories. There are more words from the families, the kids, the friends of the kids, the teachers, the principals, the ones who deny it ever is happening.Â The anger the victims and their families feel grows a boiling point where they create a town hall meeting.Â Again, I do not want to spoil what you will see in BULLY, but I can leave you with this.Â It is so well done from the various perspectives, creating a platform for ACTION and HOPE and WILL and CHANGE.Â It is meant to open our eyes and our hearts, to draw out anger and confusion and sadness.Â It is meant not to bring us to our knees in despair, but to understand the humanity of it all.Â Men do evil things.Â There are industries, especially the horror movie genre, the crime scene shows, even authors who specialize in how terrible people can be to one another, that will forever have a billion dollar market and the patrons who desire to absorb their products.
But this is real life. These are CHILDREN.Â It makes me sick when I think of child abuse, an ADULT abusing a child, but when CHILDREN abuse CHILDREN, and adults turn away and say, â€œOh, boys will be boys. Kids will be kids. Itâ€™s how they learn.â€ ? NO. That is unacceptable. Small bullies grow up to be big bullies, terrorizing and abusing their way through life, affecting us in so many ways. BULLY says WE have the power to make it stop. WE must spread the word. WE must talk. But WE must also WALK.
On a side note, I wanted share (it took some serious consideration before I opened up publicly about this) that I was bullied as a child in South Bend, IN, a town that in my mind, I wish Iâ€™d never known.Â It was a rural depressed area, my father was a Presbyterian minister and I think my parents moved the family there because the midwest was a good place to raise a family. When we moved, I was about the enter 4th grade in a public elementary school in a system which was the last school system I believe, in the country to finally integrate.Â It was a terrible year. I was terrorized verbally and physically by African American children, girls and boys all day long on the playground, in class. I was beat up, I was called flat face, ugly, funny eyes, Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these. You see, I was only one of two Asian children in that school. One was my younger brother.Â He too was adopted.Â I was tripped when I walked through an aisle in class. I thrown down on the playground by two boys one, of whom in 4th grade said, â€œIâ€™m humping you!â€ as my face was smashed in the ground.Â I was told not to tell anyone or heâ€™d kill me. FOURTH grade.Â One boy kicked me in stomach when I got up.Â They both ran in because the bell was ringing. I had to return to that class.
Meg, a girl who targeted me every day for years made my life hell.Â A few years later when I rode the bus to middle school, there was one kid who sat near the front behind the bus driver, who talked to her, then as I got on, heâ€™d yell, â€œLOOK! Flat face is on the bus!â€ The driver never said, â€œStop, be nice.â€ Sheâ€™d just keep driving. Sometimes heâ€™d kick me as I walked by. There wasn’t a day I was on that bus that he didn’t say or do something hateful to me.Â I would react by laughing.Â What could I do?Â The mornings he wasn’t on the bus I thanked God, if at that time there was a God. Sometimes I would play sick so I wouldn’t have to be on the bus.Â The ride to school and back was agonizing.
I hated that bus. I hated that school. I hated that town.Â I hated those kids.Â I hated MYSELF.Â Finally, I got to high school and the bullying stopped. I was a pom pom girl my freshman year, JV, and got onto the Varsity squad the next year, staying active with the band, my ballet classes and performances, and trying to keep up with Honors and AP classes, babysitting often and even getting a job with some of my friends at a retirement home.Â Life became semi-normal, something youâ€™d figure fitting for a midwest high school girl.
The teasing of being Asian never stopped however, Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll be in therapy for the rest of my life for that. But when I saw this film, painful memories which I had suppressed for so many years began to scratch my brainâ€™s surface.Â There were stories in there that I wished had never occurred, nightmares that seemed impossible to have happened to someone who now lives a healthy happy life far far far away from my hell on earth.Â But they did happen and they didnâ€™t have to.
The teachers and bus drivers and principals did nothing.Â They had their hands full with the integration. Who cared about one little girl?Â So, the behavior continued.Â I hope for the sakes of children today, who are at that age, forming their opinions for the rest of their lives about THEMSELVES, about others, about boys and girls and different races, aboutÂ adults, about how people should treat one another, we can and WILL stop BULLYING.
Maybe it was a good thing in the long run that I lived through being bullied.Â Maybe I am more compassionate because I know what pain really is.Â Maybe I worked harder in school because I thought I was the ugliest freak on the planet.Â Who knows?
Oh and those little boy and girl bullies who made my life hell?Â I can only wish them well, where ever they are.
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a platform for profiling people who "make it happen" in the Capital region, reviews & topical blog posts. She launched Punch Enterprises, a connector consulting business in 2015 and Pacific Punch based in LA, in 2012. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, VA. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.