DECATUR — Their smiles frozen, their voices silent, the faces of five children haunted otherwise empty chairs at Richland Community College Thursday.
One of the most prominent smiles belonged to Ty Smalley, an 11-year-old boy from Perkins, Okla.
After two years of being victimized by a bully at school, Ty retaliated and was issued a three-day suspension. Not long after returning home on that day in May 2010, he committed suicide.
Ty and the other four children represent only a tiny fraction of boys and girls across the country driven to suicide because of bullying.
“I have a list of over 55,000 babies that have taken their own lives because of being bullied right here in America over the past seven years. That's 55,000 babies lost, 55,000 families ruined,” Ty's father Kirk Smalley shouted heatedly. He added that the youngest on the list was a 6-year-old boy.
Five weeks after his son's death, Smalley vowed to put an end to bullying, to prevent families from experiencing a similar tragedy. Ty's story inspired 68 students from Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma City Upward Bound chapter to form the Stand for the Silent organization, which aims to spread anti-bullying message to schools nationwide.
The organization has reached about 850 schools since its founding, and Smalley has met with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and singer Lady Gaga to spread the message.
When asked how many students had ever been bullied, the entirety of the audience, about 50 people, raised their hands.
“Every seven seconds, a child is being beaten, neglected, humiliated, degraded, abused, picked on, bullied,” he said. “You can bully someone with a look, you can bully somebody with one word; we all know you can bully someone with an action, and thanks to technology, we can bully someone 24 hours a day.”
Because of the isolation and dehumanization, bullying can cause a victim to feel, the organization adopted the motto “I am somebody.”
Richland students hope to bring the anti-bullying message to schools throughout the community by next fall after establishing their own Stand for the Silent chapter, said Drew Powell, president of the college's Sociology Club.
“Anyone who has ever experienced bullying can relate to (Smalley's) powerful and heartbreaking story,” Powell said. “It's important that people don't wait until it's too late to tell someone they matter, to tell them that they are somebody.”
About a week ago, the Sociology Club and PRIDE co-hosted the college's first anti-bullying day and raised $50 for the Stand for the Silent organization.