|I Am Somebody|
Sitting on the sidelines during Kirk's message and witnessing an open dynamic exchange of empathy, these moments will be with me forever...
- Hundreds of noisy, energetic, restless youth scramble to their seats awaiting the start of their assembly. Within moments of Kirk's first words, middle schoolers stop fidgeting; high schoolers lose their attitudes. An unfamiliar quiet sets in.
- After learning or being reminded of the American Sign Language hand formation for love and
"I Support You...I Have Your Back...I Respect You"
- As Kirk relates the painful loss of his son to suicide because of bullying, two little girls sitting next to each other give him their loving hand sign with their outside hands, using their inside arms and hands to create a heart together - holding it steady and sending it out to Kirk.
|Sending love to Kirk|
- Hearing the personal tragedies of five other children lost to suicide because of bullying, children catch their tears with shirt sleeves and wipe their faces with grubby fingers while adults frantically search for pieces of tissue. Students lean in to one another, teachers put their arms around young ones and older ones too, and stray adults draw closer to one another. All across the gymnasium, a sea of loving hand signs ebb and tide towards Kirk, and one another.
|Honoring Ty Smalley|
- As Kirk moves into the theme of suicide making reference to his precious son and countless others, two boys leave their seats and walk toward Ty's large photo displayed on the gymnasium floor. They remove their "I Am Somebody" bracelets and lay them gently around the corners of Ty's picture.
- In each assembly, Kirk asks the students to raise their hands if "...you have ever been picked on, called names, been made fun of or excluded....been bullied". Almost every hand goes up. A collective ache sets in the room couched in a blanket of compassion for one another. Students hold the hands of one another and hold each other more tightly. Kirk looks them straight in their eyes and says, "I love you."
|"Be The Hero He Can Be"|
- Shortly thereafter, Kirk asks the audience a 'tougher' question, "....Will you raise your hand if you are a bully now". A few hands go up quickly; a few others take their time. Without hesitation, Kirk responds, "I love you, too" , sending out his hand sign. Kirk walks over to a high school football player who has raised his hand - who is shaken by the question and by his sudden ownership. Kirk sits down in front of him and repeats, "I love you, too." Tears flow down the young man's face; his head lowers in shame. He is visibly distraught as Kirk stays with him, encouraging him to 'be the hero he is capable of being'. Several moments later, as Kirk is speaking, another lone arm raises obscurely within the crowd. Kirk pauses, giving him the space to talk. With hundreds of eyes on him, the tall lean young man chokes and whispers, "I am a bully, too". Kirk responds, "I love you.... you can change that, can't you?" The broken boy nods. Hand signs of love are raised in his direction.
- As Kirk continues to share the staggering statistics of youth suicide - one in four will not only think about suicide but will have a plan to take his/her own life before graduating from high school. And as he weaves in the theme that 'everyone has a right to be here....everyone is special....everyone is somebody', hope and healing fill the room. Suddenly, at one school, a young girl sitting high up in the bleachers stands up and holds her hand high in the air, sending out the love sign. A few more join in, then more; then within moments, all are standing. Over 700 young people are on their feet - standing in solidarity - standing against bullying. Teachers, administrators and support staff are crying - welling with pride,compassion, and love.
- Moving into the later part of his message, Kirk talks about 'his belief in young people...how they can be the change...how it doesn't cost anything to treat one another with respect, love, and dignity...how they can Stand For The Silent and each other through their actions, their words, and their commitment to be the change'. Trying desperately but unsuccessfully to hold back his own tears, Kirk delivers his final plea, "This is not an option...we cannot lose another baby...". Eyes are wiped and are wide open. Minds are swept clean of past pain making way for a pathway to change. Kirk invites those who are willing and ready to recite the Stand For The Silent Pledge. As a chorus of confident voices responds, Kirk concludes his message providing materials and resources for sustaining their commitment to change. Knowing the assembly is coming to a close, students ready themselves to dash toward him.
|Stand For The Silent Pledge|
- Without exception, at every presentation, Kirk is met with a swarm of students. Some need a hug - some need to hug him. Others melt into his tall lanky body, wanting to absorb his comfort and his compassion. Many want to share their stories, knowing he will encourage and support them. And still, there are others, like a young boy who stood in line, waiting his turn and sobbing uncontrollably. And when Kirk reached out to him, this fragile precious little guy managed to choke out the words, "You changed my life today....". Kirk's long arms engulfed him into a embrace of safety and of support.
|Let's Stand Together - Let's Stand Against Bullying|