Making a change without silence

Derek Pufahl, Staff Writer

The air hung thick in the Majes­tic Theatre in Wayne on Thurs­day night.

Kirk Smalley, construction worker, father and co-founder of the “Stand for the Silent” cam­paign, fought back tears during an anti-bullying presentation.

Kirk and his wife, Laura, lost their son, Ty, when he ended his own life—at 11 years old—in May of 2010 after being bullied for two years. Ever since, Kirk and Laura have been on a mission to put an end to bullying.

They do this through “Stand for the Silent” (STFS). The group’s mission is to bring awareness to bullying and the devastation that it causes.

Smalley said that 55,000 chil­dren have taken their lives in the past seven years because of bul­lying, and that on average one in four children will have a plan on how to take their own life before graduating from high school.

“I promised him (Ty) that I was going to stop bullying in this world,” Smalley said, “and I don’t like breaking promises.”

STFS was started in 2010 by a group of students in Oklahoma after hearing Smalley’s story, and the movement has gained ground ever since.

Smalley travels nationwide. In the last four years, they’ve traveled to over 1,000 schools and reached over 1,000,000 children.

He works with children from local schools to try and get a STFS chapter started.

Students from the Wayne STFS chapter helped Smalley with the presentation, leading audience members in reciting the STFS pledge to not stay silent, but stand up and be a helping hand to those who need it. The pledge includes the STFS slogan, “I am some­body.”

Wayne students are very com­mitted to spreading the message.

One student, Brittney Hunke, told KTIV News on Thursday: “Especially when yourself, you’ve been bullied, it does hurt to know that other people are getting hurt the same way you were.”

Near the end of the presentation, Smalley asked anyone who had ever been a victim of bullying to raise their hand. Nearly every hand went up.

“I love you,” Smalley said. “Now, this one might be a bit harder.”

Then he asked anyone who had ever been a bully to raise their hand. This time hands were few and tentative.

“Guess what?” Smalley said, “I love you too.”

“Hatred isn’t something that you’re born with,” he said. “It’s something that you learn, and it can be unlearned.”

Kirk and Laura have met with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama prior to attending the first ever White house confer­ence on bullying.

Smalley said that every time he gives a presentation it’s like he’s reliving the day that he and his wife lost Ty.

“But, when I look through and get all these e-mails and messages from kids who were thinking about suicide, saying, ‘You’ve change my life’ I mean, how can you not?” Smalley said.