I have never thought of myself as an activist.
I always pictured activists as people with loud voices, carrying signs and pointing fingers. None of which is like me.
Usually, if I feel the need to get my point across, I take out a pencil and a sheet of paper. The quickest path out of my mind has always be directly to my hand, rather than my mouth.
Over the past year, however, I have warmed up to being part of a cause — much to my own astonishment.
Back in April 2012, our family went to see the movie-documentary, “Bully,” at the State Theater in Traverse City. I was curious, because such a fuss had been raised over the film before it came out. And the theater in Traverse City was the only one within a hundred miles of Gaylord showing the movie. (I checked!)
Now, there were bullies when I was in school, bullies when my parents were in school and doubtlessly, bullies all the way back to Cain and Abel. I remember some frightening encounters with bullies back in the day, but nothing like what I saw in that movie. And nothing like I’ve seen and read about bullying since then.
When I was a kid, if you were hurt or humiliated by someone, word of that event might get around school or even the community where you lived, but that was about it. Eventually, the talk of that event would be replaced by the next humiliation someone else endured. And even if you didn’t have the best of lives growing up, you could look forward to leaving it all behind someday when you graduated by starting fresh somewhere where others didn’t know those stories.
Today, it’s a new world. Any event can be photographed or videotaped by a cell phone and posted on the Internet for anyone to see. Once there, it can be re-posted again and again. It’s easy for kids to get the feeling that the effects of such disturbing events are eternal and reaching the whole world.
Not long after watching the Bully movie, I learned a colleague and friend, David Crumm, had helped publish a new book for parents, educators, youth workers, etc., called, “The New Bullying,” printed by Michigan State University.
After some talk, we decided to collaborate on a second publication, aimed at students. The original concept was to feature my comic character, The Cardinal, but a little way into the project, I decided it was too big for even him to handle alone. So, I put out a call for help. Utilizing some professionals I vaguely knew in the comics biz, I began a letter and e-mail campaign to encourage them to work with us in helping victims of bullying.
To my utter amazement, more than 30 newspaper comic creators, most of whom I’ve never met nor spoken to, responded. Lynn Johnston (“For Better or For Worse”), Greg Evans (“Luann”), Ron Ferdinand (“Dennis the Menace”), Brian Crane (“Pickles”), Dean Young (“Blondie”), Mort and Greg Walker (“Beetle Bailey”), Terri Libenson (“The Pajama Diaries”), Jan Eliot (“Stone Soup”), Karen Moy and Joe Giella (“Mary Worth”) and many others volunteered to donate comic strips about bullying for this publication. All the artwork is now in the publisher’s hands, waiting to be assembled.
This summer, my daughter and I began promoting the project at comic cons and other events. And we started getting even more people involved. We turned to the TV and movie celebrities who attend cons for help promoting the cause also. The Cardinal had his pic taken with people like Lou Ferrigno (“Incredible Hulk”), Greg Evigan (“BJ and the Bear,” “My Two Dads”), Marina Sirtis (“Star Trek: the Next Generation”), Jon Provost (“Lassie”), Kristy McNichol (“Family,” “Empty Next”), Mackenzie Phillips (“One at a Time,” “So Weird”), Parker Stevenson (“The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries”), Peter Davison, Colin Baker (both of “Doctor Who”) and others to spread the word.
As with so many causes, though, just publishing a comic book and creating a photo campaign didn’t seem like enough to really help those being bullied. So, last month, my wife and I decided it was time to take a bigger step. We began contacting people involved with youth around the county about meeting to discuss bullying and what we can do to help those dealing with the issue here.
Now, I don’t know how many Otsego County students are facing issues with bullying. We don’t have statistics, but we know bullying happens everywhere. It’s not just a school-related issue, but a community issue, because it can happen anywhere people cross paths. And, helping those dealing with this problem must involve the whole community — parents, youth workers, educators, church workers, service organizations, business owners, community leaders and others.
Seven of us gathered for our first meeting on Aug. 20 — none of us looking like “activists.” In calm, soft tones we talked about the issue of bullying in general and what our communities — Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Elmira, Johannesburg, Waters — can do to make them safe places for everyone. Respect for others needs to start with a group promoting it.
We will meet again tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30 p.m. in the meeting room of the Otsego County Library in Gaylord. If someone is interested and can’t make it on this short notice, they can contact me at 732-4673 or [email protected].
People with soft voices, bent fingers and no signs are always welcome. Because there must be more unintentional, unconventional activists out there also.
— Kurt J. Kolka is news assistant at the Gaylord Herald Times. Contact him at [email protected].