In this space, I’ve written about bullying several times. In 2007, I shared the story of Megan Meier, the 13-year-old who committed suicide after being bullied online. Last October, I wrote about the “It Gets Better” campaign and “The Trevor Project,” a series of celebrity PSA’s directed at gay teens who are bullied. And in March, when everyone was ganging up on Rebecca Black for her inferior singing, I came to her defense, and seized the opportunity to once again address cyberbullying.
And now, as we embark on another school year, there’s something else I’d like to share with you. It’s called the “You Will Rise Project,” and it’s an online art exhibit that shares the experiences of victims of bullying. It’s a multimedia platform, giving the victims a voice through creative channels—visual art, poetry and short stories. And it is at once heartbreaking and inspiring. In the struggle to reclaim their voices, a silent strength is evident—persistent and resilient.
Individually, the pieces are strong and moving. Viewed collectively, they are a tour de force, pushing back against the kind of cruelty and hatred that has long plagued our society’s teens. These are the broken and downtrodden, banished and tormented for being “different.” Seeing the world through their eyes can help to awaken our own capacities for compassion and sympathy.
The “You Will Rise Project” was created by Paul Richmond and Linda Regula, both of whom were bullied as children. Linda designed the organization’s logo, a colorful phoenix ascending from the ashes. It’s an image that is very important to her. “Being poor, shy, skinny, and motherless, I was bullied unmercifully as a child,” she writes on the site’s mission page. “When I was in the fourth grade, our teacher asked students to listen to a story about a phoenix, then to draw a picture of the mythical fire bird rising from ashes.” To make a long story short, her teacher chose Linda’s drawing as the best, and hung it in the classroom. For the first time in her childhood, Linda felt proud of something she had accomplished. As soon as the teacher left the room, one of Linda’s bullies ripped the picture down and tore it into pieces.
There are those who will say that recent efforts to crack down on bullies are exaggerated or overblown, who dismiss bullying as “part of growing up,” and argue that it builds character. They are wrong. To ignore the cruelty and hatred that drives the teen suicide rate upward is to condone it. To discount the pain and suffering that bullies inflict only reinforces the sense of worthlessness felt by victims of bullying.
New artwork is being posted on the website daily. Since the project launched in April, more than 200 pieces have been featured. Paul and Linda hope that the project can evolve into a physical exhibit—perhaps a traveling show, displayed in schools, colleges and galleries across the country. The idea would be to host shows, allowing victims of bullying to share their experiences, through music or spoken word performances, with the visual art on display. It’s a great idea, and I’d like to see it come to fruition. After all, empathy can’t truly begin until we are able to see the world from their perspective.
This is the time of year when bullying begins to blossom. Kids enroll in new schools. Castes and cliques are formed early in the school year. The hierarchy is established, and some are cast aside. If you know of someone who is being bullied, help them and encourage them. Contact the school, and make them aware. There are dozens of online resources to help victims of bullying—the Trevor Project, The Anti-Bullying Coalition, the Safe Schools Coalition, and ReachOut.com, to name but a few.
When you have a moment this weekend, spend a little time with the “You Will Rise Project,” at YouWillRiseProject.blogspot.com.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 09/01/11.
© Damien Willis, 2011. All rights reserved.