School Notes: Hartford Student’s Stand Against Bullying Is Joined by Many
Charleigh Gere's song "Stand" is part of an online anti-bullying campaign. (Helen Gere photograph)
Imagining the hurt that bullies leave in their wake was not difficult for 12-year-old Charleigh Gere when she helped compose the anti-bullying song Stand.
The Hartford Memorial Middle School seventh-grader sings about an imagined girl who’s reduced to tears and thinks of suicide as she’s taunted in the hallway, and a boy who’s crying on the inside, “painfully dreading the fight he won’t talk about.”
Gere had personal experience with bullying and raw emotions to draw from in composing Stand. At school, Gere said she has sometimes endured pushing, shoving and gossip. “If someone hates me, they’ll walk by and start talking about me, right in front of me,” she said.
The digital media that bullies have at their fingertips has given rise to so-called “cyberbullying,” with nasty messages transmitted via Facebook and text messages. An incident that occurred in Gere’s sixth-grade year inspired Stand , which was written by her aunt, singer-songwriter Lahni Schultz, who used Gere’s ideas and stories of bullying.
Gere first performed Stand last year in a school talent show. Audience members who were deeply moved by its message encouraged Gere and her mother Heather to have the song professionally recorded, which they did last summer. From there, Stand has given rise to a grassroots movement to empower bystanders to defend and support friends who are being bullied. The campaign, titled “willUstand,” drives home its message in the song’s chorus: “I will stand beside you/Will you stand with me?”
Gere and her mother have used social media to reach out to anti-bullying organizations, schools and individuals, asking them for clips to contribute to the Stand music video. The result is what may be the first crowd-sourced anti-bullying music video, featuring Charleigh and her brother Justin singing the song as clips of students embracing its message appear on screen. Some sign the lyrics in American Sign Language as the Gere siblings sing; others hold signs that read Stand . A school in Texas created pink T-shirts for students to wear as they appeared in the video and sent one to Gere.
The Upper Valley is represented by cameos from Miss Vermont Teen USA, the Dartmouth Aires and Hartford students. On the “willUstand” website, people can pledge to “take a stand” against bullying in their communities. As of yesterday, close to 600 had lent their names to the cause, with a map on the site showing pledges from as far away as Poland, Thailand and the Phillipines.
Close to home, the song has struck a nerve, with the Hartford Police Department filming its own public service announcement around Stand .
Appearing in the video, which has been viewed more than 8,600 times on YouTube, are Kristinnah Adams, a Hartford police officer who is the school resource officer in the Hartford School District, teachers and counselors, teens at The Junction Teen Center in White River Junction, and Hartford High School students who are part of the Peer Projects group, which promotes healthy behavior among students. The young people featured in the PSA hold up signs that share jarring statistics, such as that 90 percent of fourth-graders through eighth-graders have felt bullied at school, and two out of five children believe they are bullied because of their appearance.
The PSA is “built to get people to think, to bring awareness and bring it to the forefront, said Braedon Vail, the police department’s deputy chief. With regard to cyberbullying, the PSA encourages victims to save and print everything, while Adams explains the legal repercussions that bullies face and the process that she follows in handling reports of bullying.
(In a separate interview, Adams explained that a serious case of bullying may involve the students receiving juvenile citations, or referrals to a restorative justice program, in which bullies and victims confront one another to work out their differences and make a plan to go forward.)
Gere’s song has particularly resonated among members of the Peer Projects group who have worked on anti-bullying activities within the high school.
“When you hear the lyrics, you can almost visualize people getting bullied, even if you haven’t seen it,” said freshman Jocelyn Martin.
The first time ninth-grader Logan Potter heard the song, “it actually touched my heart,” she said, “because I’ve been bullied several times.” In Potter’s case, a group of peers targeted her via Facebook, calling her names. Potter said it helps to have “close friends like Jocelyn and other people” to stand up for her.
Stand has been the vehicle through which Gere not only stood up for herself, but encouraged others to do the same for friends being bullied. She’s less certain about how the song will affect the behavior of those who bully.
At school, “some people come up to me and say, ‘I will stand,’ ” Gere said. “But others will just ignore it.”
But Stand's influence could be lasting. The Geres have plans to build on willUstand’s success by creating rubber bracelets with the sneaker graphic from Stand's original album cover, and they hope to work with anti-bullying organizations to develop an educational kit for schools. “I really think that bystanders can make a huge difference and if we can encourage kids to be there for one another, at an early age, we can see social change,” Heather Gere said in an email.
For the time being, Charleigh Gere can take pride in the impact she’s had not only in her community, but around the world. Asked her thoughts on her song’s far-reaching influence, she said, “It’s awesome.”
“Stand” is available for purchase for 99 cents on iTunes, with a portion of the proceeds going toward anti-bullying efforts. The campaign’s official website is www.willustand.com.
Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.