BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Alabama passed the Jamari Terrell Williams Bully Prevention law in May 2018. It’s named after a 10-year old-boy from Montgomery who suffered with bullying until he reached a breaking point and took his own life.
The law requires all schools in Alabama to have bully prevention policies and procedures in place.
For many schools, that means a website with a form in which parents and students can report incidents to administrator who are supposed to investigate immediately. Some go further with character lessons encouraging students to be more compassionate.
Teachers are strapped with enough responsibilities on top of trying to help students reach academic success. Lots of schools are already cash strapped so bully prevention programs that will cost them money is really not an option, at least not long term.
In researching resources for bully prevention, we came across “BE STRONG,” which led to a phone conversation and then Skype and then our story with Executive Director Ashleigh Cromer, who took us through the origins of BE STRONG.
It sounds revolutionary. It’s a whole new way of thinking about combating bullying.
“BE STRONG was founded by the hearts of parents Roy and Lisa Moore," Cromer said. "In 2015, their son was experiencing severe bullying that escalated into cyber bullying and a video was made of him that went viral. The school reached out to Roy and Lisa and said due to the severe bullying they said they believed Matte was going to end his own life.”
Their son didn’t fit model of a child who is a target of bullying.
“Their son was popular, good looking and had lots of friends,” Cromer said.
But when they began looking for resources, it was like going down a rabbit hole. Cromer says they sent their son to a treatment center for two years because of the severity of the bullying.
“Matthew will tell you today what saved his life was understanding resiliency and understanding that you can’t stop bullying," Cromer said. "But you can use other psychology and technology and other tools to navigate it.”
The Moore family could afford the therapy, but they thought about the thousands of parents who could not. They got together with a group of leaders in South Florida which organized to get this kind of education to students. Cromer calls it comprehensive and much more impactful than just awareness.
What’s different is the belief system on which the program is based.
“We cannot stop bullying, and the shift in power in society will always remain. It happens in our homes, in our workplace it happens as we become adults. So telling young people that you can just stop it, that doesn’t work,” Cromer said.
How the program works is through national assemblies simulcasted across the country into schools community groups and religious groups for free. They call it the BE STRONG Live Tour. Comer says it’s an opportunity to address half a million to a million educators and students at one time, teaching them some of the tools research based on science and technology.
Those tours around the country also give them an opportunity to get research. Now to the results.
“A school that participates in our simulcast, there is an 85 percent shift in the culture of the school," Cromer said. “That tells you and tells myself that the education is powerful right. But then we know three months later that drops to 67 percent, so that also tells us we need consistent messaging, Bullying is pervasive and the education must be as well."
The next part is not led by schools or parents, it’s student led.
Students get nominated to become BE STRONG representatives. Those students take an 8-week resiliency training that equips them with social and emotional tools to combat bullying using their brain power and not their fists.
“Transformative resilience means you take those adversities and you allow them to become part of your story and plateau you to where you want to be,” Cromer said.
Equipping students to navigate through bullying she says makes sense. Cromer says there are not enough adults on a school property to meet the needs of young people, but there are enough children, and if they can educate them and mobilize them, they can be those champions of change on those school campuses.
Cromer says she believes there is a real relationship between severe bullying and children who feel isolated with no other options but to take their own lives.
“We know prior to a violent attack happening at school, prior to a child ending their own life there is a discussion that happens. It’s just not happening with adults. So we said let’s get the tools in the hands of the kids,” Cromer said.
We’re including a number of links from BE STRONG that includes how to nominate a student to become an agent of change on their school campus and also checklists for parents, students and teachers to know how to spot bullying and or someone in crisis.
You can view the BE STRONG website here.
You can nominate a student in Alabama here.
You can view the student checklist here.
You can view the parent checklist here.
You can view the teacher checklist here.