The message was strong and, to the point, but mostly heart-wrenching as Kirk Smalley, a sheet-metal worker from Still Water, Oklahoma spoke to students and parents last month, addressing the issues of school bullying and youth suicide.
“My baby took his own life to escape years of constant bullying at school,” Smalley said to the audience that filled the Newsome High School auditorium in Lithia, while recalling the sequence of events leading up to the unimaginable tragedy of the loss of his 11-year-old son Ty, a naturally happy, energetic young boy.
The hour-long program produced no shortage of tears as many were clinching their tissues and wiping their eyes, while listening to the program, filled with painful stories of young people who had, or thought about ending their lives because of being bullied at school.
From the anguish following the death of their own son, Smalley and his wife Laura, founded Stand For The Silent (SFTS) with the sole purpose of preventing any further bullying-induced loss of life.
“Our mission is simple: End Bullying. Save Lives,” Kirk said.
Stand For The Silent, founded in 2010, is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization whose message has reached almost 600,000 youth and community members across the country and, continues to reach students, around the world.
While some of the statistics that included a 6-year-old boy from England being the youngest child on record who killed himself due to being bullied at school and, the fact that one out-of-four children not only think about suicide but actually have a plan added to the seriousness of the message, Kirk drew attention to the solution, which came down to three simple words.
“You are Somebody,” he repeatedly called out to those present, followed by the words “You are People,You are People We Love, and if you are going to be part of a statistic than be among those who stand up for the silent and stop bullying.”
Pointing to a picture of his son sitting on the stage, Kirk hoped to appeal to those that may wonder about what they ould possibly do to help and said, “Don’t ask me what you should do, but use your imaginations as the thousands of young people around the country that have already stood up and joined the fight.”
Pleased with the support from President and First Lady Obama, as well as pop superstar Lady Gaga, the Smalley’s emphasized the importance of not waiting for others as the message is being heard and is only getting louder, thanks to the students who according to Kirk, are “making a whole lot of noise.”
Impressed by the statistics and inspired by the message, 14-year-old FishHawk resident Matthew Tansill was ready to stand up for the silent when he said, “I will definitely get involved and find a way to help fight bullying at school.”
Newsome was the first on the Smalley’s list of schools to visit in Florida and, according to PTSA President, Liz Brewer, the reason to support the SFTS campaign needs no special introduction.
“As parents we want to do everything we can to empower the students to rise above bullying and understand that there are underlying reasons why students bully one another,” Brewer said. “Providing them with knowledge of why it happens will help them prevent it from occurring around them.”
Following the event, it was clear that Stand For The Silent empowers youth to create cultures of kindness and stand up to bullying.
With a glance once again at the smiling photo of his son, Kirk summed up his campaign and his fight against bullying when he said, “I made a promise to my boy and, I won’t break my promise.”
The Smalley’s are hoping to return to the Brandon area in the fall in order to reach even more students and will be offering their free speaking program. For more information about SFTS and how to get involved please visit www.standforthesilent.org.