Bullfight: Groups join forces to sponsor anti-bullying campaign in area

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Social media has made bullying even more prevalent than ever.

“Kids have it worse today. If you were bullied in school, home was usually a safe-zone if you were fortunate enough to have come from a good, loving home. Nowadays, you can’t escape it with Facebook, Twitter, and texting. Today, kids don’t feel safe at all,” said Ashlee Baracy, a reporter for WDIV-TV (Channel 4).

WDIV and Richard Bernstein of The Sam Bernstein Law Firm joined forces and held “The Next Step to End Bullying” TV and Web contest where students produced their own 30-second PSAs about bullying. They were later joined by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who appeared in commercials with Baracy and Bernstein promoting this contest.

“(Schuette) has been working to combat bullying through the Michigan CSI (Cyber Safety Initiative) program, which has already reached 1 million students across Michigan. He befriended Richard Bernstein a few years ago, and he was happy to take advantage of this opportunity to team up and encourage kids to end bullying,” said spokeswoman Joy Yearout.
The age ranges for this contest were middle school and high school. There were a total of 63 entries. The winners were announced during WDIV’s annual Ford Fireworks broadcast on June 24.

Bernadette Kathryn of Royal Oak Middle School won the middle school category. She did a PSA called “Look At Me Now,” where she sings. In it, an aspiring ice skater, novice magician, and unpopular girl are laughed at by the popular kids. However, through the support of their friends and unflagging belief in themselves, they persevere and achieve their dreams.

Shannon Stoudemire of Southfield High School won the high school category. Her PSA — “Become a Friend” — depicts a girl at a playground taunted by bullies. Through sad piano music and her tears, she conveys her loneliness, sadness, fear. At the end, another girl befriends her. 

In addition to having their PSAs aired during prime-time, Kathryn and Stoudemire each won $500 honorariums that went to their respective schools. To see the winning entries, go to: http://www.clickondetroit.com/sam-bernstein-student-video-contest.

“The videos that come in were really impressive and awesome. I loved them. Every one of them told a story... The kids really did a great job and put in a tremendous amount of effort, which shows in the quality of their work,” said Bernstein.

Baracy and Bernstein — who were bullied when they were growing up — talked about the impetus behind this contest. They also shared their experiences about being bullied.

“When you have a TV station, a law firm, and the Attorney General’s Office, this is the perfect area where this kind of campaign can really help a lot of people,” explained Bernstein. “This is a perfect thing because it’s a conglomeration of three different parties. The reason why all three of us decided we had to join in and take on this initiative was we had to deal with a lot of challenges and difficulties as we were growing up. That was the reason I was excited about this program.”

Added Baracy: “This was a collaborative effort of all of us doing what we can do to make a difference in the community. I was asked two years ago to actually front a bullying story... I told (my executive producer) I had a long history of being bullied when I was little. He said, ‘You were bulled?’ When I told him my story, he was blown away. I’m not ashamed to talk about it, but I don’t dwell on it either. I had no problem talking about it.”

Baracy’s problems began in fifth grade when she transferred schools. A straight-A student who danced since she was 2, she was harassed by the smart kids who felt threatened by her, as well as the “cool girls” because she danced at a different studio. In one instance, a kid’s mother even grabbed her and verbally abused her. Attending school made Baracy sick to her stomach.

Baracy told her mother, Janet, that she should get in trouble in order to fit in with her peers. However, her mother told her that’s not who she was. Attending John Glenn High School in Westland was no better. Baracy was targeted by girls who vandalized her car, hacked into her email account, forwarded her private emails, and harassed her online. She even received death threats online, prompting her to contact the police. On top of that, her mother had cancer her senior year.

“I have not gotten an apology form the girls in high school. I don’t need an apology to move forward,” said Baracy. “I don’t hold a grudge. Nothing will benefit me by being negative or mean to them. I’d never have an interest to be their friends per se, but can be cordial if I see them in public.” 

Baracy managed to get through it, thanks to her parents’ love and support and learned to “better, not bitter.” Eventually, she graduated from the University of Michigan. Additionally, she’s a Michigan’s Junior Miss 2003, a Top Ten Finalist and Overall Fitness Winner at America’s Junior Miss 2003, first runner-up at National Sweetheart 2007, and a Miss America 2008 Academic Scholarship winner.

Bernstein was the only blind person at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills.

“That’s another reason why this program took on a greater significance, especially when you have a disability (because) — by nature — you’re different than everybody else,” he said. “When you’re in high school, you tend to think that’s all there is. You tend to think that however you are in terms of your social hierarchy… ‘Wow! This is all there is.’ You don’t realize when you’re in high school that there’s a huge world that exists beyond it.”

Bernstein also wanted to reach the “cool kids.”

“I want to share with them is if they can go out of their way to be nice, to be inclusive, let people join them at lunch, invite people to different parties … people remember that forever,” he said. “We want to this group to realize that they have the power to do something extraordinary, to really make a difference by being nice and inclusive. What happens is years after high school, people will always remember who was nice to them. It doesn’t matter how long it is. I can tell you to this day who was mean and who was nice.”

According to Bernstein, the key is to keep persevering and to turn to people — parents, friends, counselors, educators - for support during those years.

Bernstein graduated from the University of Michigan and Northwestern University School of Law. He teaches at U-M and co-hosts WCHB-AM radio’s “Fighting for Justice.” Despite his blindness, Bernstein has run 17 marathons. In April, he was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

“If you realize and recognize there’s a future you can look forward to, that you have a lot to be optimistic about. If you make it through those difficult days and difficult times, you’re gonna have experiences in front of you that you never thought possible,” explained Bernstein. “People who have more challenges and difficulties, who know what it’s like to not totally fit in, tend to live the best lives. If you’re able to stick with it, not give up, and keep moving forward, what I’ve ultimately found is that you wind up getting to have the best life because you have so many more experiences.”

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