Groups unite to counter bullying

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Social media has made bullying 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 Sam Bernstein Law Firm joined forces for “The Next Step to End Bullying” TV/Web contest where students produced 30-second PSAs about bullying. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette joined Baracy and Bernstein, appearing in promotional commercials with them.

“[Schuette] has been working to combat bullying through the Michigan CSI (Cyber Safety Initiative) program, which has already reached one 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.

Age ranges for the 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 with her PSA called “Look At Me Now,” in which 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, Stoudemire conveys the girl’s loneliness, sadness, fear. At the end, another girl befriends her. 

In addition to having their PSAs aired during prime-time, the girls each won a $500 honorarium for their respective schools. The winning entries, are at www.clickondetroit.com/sambernstein-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 both bullied growing up – talked about the impetus behind this contest and shared their experiences 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 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 bullied?’ 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, but 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 from the girls in high school. I don’t need an apology to move forward; I don’t hold a grudge,” said Baracy. “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.

“[W]hen you have a disability – by nature – you’re different than everybody else,” he said. “When you’re in high school, 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 [that] 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 this group to realize that they have the power to do something extraordinary, to really make a difference... 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.

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, 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. “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 becauseyou have so many more experiences.”

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