A phenomenon that persists and morphs with the times, bullying is a plague across generations for children and students, many of whom grapple with it in silence every single day. To alleviate this suffering, Boo2Bullying dedicates itself to educational outreach to help educators and students create a safe space free of bullying wherein children can thrive and flourish as their best, most authentic selves. 2023 marks the 10th Anniversary of Boo2Bullying. Boo2Bullying shines a light on how bullying isolates students from one another and how to have hard conversations around this topic.
Beginning her career with the organization over ten years ago as the Girls Youth Ambassador, Cassie Scerbo is devoted to “eradicating intolerance and promoting acceptance and inclusivity.” Having fallen in love with Boo2Bullying’s core mission, Scerbo details the personal aspects of her work as well as the range of issues that are sources of potential pain and bullying for students, including socioeconomic issues as well as school performance and peer-related problems. Emphasizing the need for proper education on how bullying manifests itself, Scerbo looks to both students as well as their parents for allies in this fight, noting that, once parents can spot the signs of bullying, Boo2Bullying’s mission becomes that much easier.
For more on that, we turn to the organization’s founder, Dimitri Halkidis, who explains that the stories of Matthew Shephard and Tyler Clementi, among others, inspired him to action and how bullying can take place not only in the scholastic space but also online and through social media. Supporting Boo2Bullying vast work is an array of programs centered on community outreach and involvement, including Empowerment Through Art, Mothers Against Bullying, and C.A.P.E. Nation. Capping off with insights into how Boo2Bullying’s work impacts students, schools, parents, and teachers, Halkidis delves into the reactions the organization’s work has received. Driving home the point that if someone sees something, they should say something, Halkidis reminds us all that bullying is a community problem impacting individuals in a very real way. As such, it requires an all-hands-on-deck approach that involves education, outreach, and prevention.
Cassie, you are the Vice President and Brand Ambassador for Boo2Bullying. Tell us about your role with the organization. How do you present the anti-bullying message to school kids?
Hi there! I started with Boo2Bullying over a decade ago as their Girls Youth Ambassador. Shortly after, I began fundraising and was active in the communities we served. From there I worked my way up to West Coast Executive Director and was promoted to VP at age 25.
We present our school programs both virtually and in-person. Every demographic is tackled differently but most important is creating a safe space for students to hear our stories and share some of their experiences as well. Opening up with our own testimonies first helps the children we serve relate to us and feel brave and supported in sharing their stories. We’ve found that communication and support is most beneficial. Our youth need an outlet and that’s why we’re here. Negativity manifests in isolation, thus it is imperative to have these honest and vulnerable conversations surrounding bullying and mental health. Our mission is to break the stigmas surrounding mental health and to start the hard conversations regarding bullying.
How did you get involved with Boo2Bullying? Did you experience bullying at school as a kid?
I was approached by Boo2Bullying at an event years ago and absolutely loved their mission. I’m a big believer in eradicating intolerance and promoting acceptance and inclusivity.
I had my personal bouts with being bullied, absolutely. And that’s the thing, I feel most of us have. Bullying doesn’t discriminate, no matter your age, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and so forth, almost everyone has either dealt with bullying or have witnessed someone close to them fall victim to hate and intolerance. Boo2Bullying is here to lower that statistic and to fight the good fight for the rest of our days.
How can parents help kids deal with bullying at school and overcome the issue?
It’s extremely important that parents are aware of what is going on at their children’s school and on social media as both in-person and cyber-bullying can lead to mental health concerns and, tragically, even suicide. Every time we hear of another child or teen taking their life due to bullying our hearts become torn into a million pieces all over again. There is still so much to be done and it is crucial that everyone does their part in ending this vicious cycle.
Once parents are taught the warning signs (their child lacking interest in going to school, isolating themselves, behavioral changes), they must intervene and ensure the school is made aware. If the issue isn’t addressed properly by the school, that’s where organizations like ours come into play.
Therapy and counseling can also be extremely beneficial for youth dealing with severe cases of bullying. As stated previously, negative thoughts and violent acts upon one’s self often manifest in alienation. Everyone needs an outlet. I often talk about the fact that there are over 7 billion people on this planet and that no matter what it is that one may be facing, many others are going through the exact same obstacle. As our slogan states, “You’re Not Alone”, and I feel there is comfort in that.
The next step is addressing whatever it is you’re going through as there is always a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Bottling up our emotions can become extremely heavy and can lead to an abundance of concerns. It’s important to have support in getting those bottled-up emotions out of the mind and body! Every child and teen deserve to feel good about themselves, and to feel supported in going to school eager to learn and interact with their peers.
How big of a problem is bullying in schools today? How different is the problem that it was 20 to 30 years ago?
Bullying is a HUGE concern in schools.
In the US, 1 in 5 students ages 12-18 has been bullied during the school year. Approximately 160,000 teens have skipped school because of bullying.
(Resource: “NCES” National Center for Education Statistics)
These statistics are truly alarming and we feel as though social media and online bullying is a leading catalyst as to why bullying, in general, has become worse over the decades.
Cassie, does your status as a well-known actor in Hollywood help the anti-bullying message? Do more people stop and listen to you because of your career?
I feel as though anyone who has a passion to use their voice and stand strong in their convictions are absolutely heard. It’s all about how you present your beliefs. If you whole-heartedly believe in something, it shows… and others will listen. However, being in the public eye does have its benefits in pushing movements. And I am beyond grateful for that. I’ve always believed in using my platform for the greater good. You can’t move mountains alone. I am so thankful to all of my friends and followers who have stood by me in standing up to bullying.
Dimitri, tell us about the creation of Boo2Bullying. What inspired you to create the organization and work with kids to end the epidemic of school bullying?
I founded Boo2Bullying back in 2011 during an era of hate crimes on young adults like Mathew Shepard and Tyler Clementi. I just couldn’t sit back and be silent, I needed to be proactive and wanted to use my personal experiences and teach our youth how I overcame these obstacles. B2B has paved the way for a modern approach towards empowering our youth and ultimately saving lives. I’ve volunteered with many organizations from an early age and before moving to Palm Springs dedicated my time towards the Los Angeles organization Art of Elysium and later in the Coachella Valley with the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center.
How big of a problem is school bullying in American schools and what tactics does Boo2Bullying take to end the issue?
Bullying in schools is still on the rise, more now than ever, especially cyberbullying as young as 10 years old. Boo2Bullying programs address a worldwide issue that affects everyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality and/or religion. Bullying and discrimination are especially prevalent among children, teens and L.G.B.T.Q.+ youth whom we serve. More than half of these youth are Hispanic/Latino and are classified as lower income. According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 1 out of 3 children aged 6-17 in the Coachella Valley have had conversations about suicide with parents, guardians and counselors. We deliver our programs in schools and community organization settings and online over social media platforms. We empower children and teens with the tools to develop a healthy self-image, learning to accept diversity, speak their truth, positively impact those around them, and create safe-communities that combat bullying and prevent suicide.
Can you tell us about the many programs the organization promotes such as school assembly, community outreach, Empowerment Through Art, Mothers Against Bullying, and mentoring?
Boo2Bullying programs include:
COMMUNITY OUTREACH – Participation in festivals, parades, LGBTQ+ events, and collaboration with groups focused on tolerance and youth development.
EMPOWERMENT THROUGH ART: Gallery exhibitions and performing arts showcasing our youth.
MENTORSHIP: Matching B2B volunteers with at-risk students.
MOTHER’S AGAINST BULLYING: Raising parental awareness of suicide warning signs in their children.
SCHOOL PROGRAMS: Our main focus is reaching out to educators and presenting interactive, multi-media, age-appropriate school assemblies.
C.A.P.E. NATION (Courage Appreciation Personal heal and Education), our newest program for K-3 grade students, uses entertaining video and classroom dialogue to teach young children how to become “Superheros” by exhibiting courage and gratitude and adopting healthy habits. The aim is to instill positive values that stop bullying at an early age. This program was developed by B2B Ambassador, Katie Welch, and has proven to be very successful.
Lengthier assemblies for middle school and high school students stimulate candid dialogue among bullied youth, those who bully them, and the remaining kids who stand by and do not intervene.
Please explain the triangle approach that is often used to help individuals with bullying.
When we speak of Bullying and the “triangle” surrounding it, this consists of the “Bully”, the person who is getting bullied (the victim), and the bystanders that just sit back and do nothing. Most of the bullying takes place with other students witnessing and being involved without saying anything and at times recording on phones to post in the school groups this enhancing the problem.
What has been the reaction of schools, students, and parents to the work Boo2Bullying has done so far?
Wow, this is the most rewarding part of what we do, when Boo2Bullying is at Community Outreach events or going back to in-school assemblies, we love hearing from parents how Boo2Bullying has changed their child’s life or how B2B has changed the school climate after just one of our presentations. Parents are very curious and involved to receive additional resources from Boo2Bullying on how to recognize if their child is being bullied or has shown lack of interest in attending school, these are usually red flags.
Boo2Bullying is very proud to have served over 30,000 students from Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties as well as Coachella Valley.
To know more about Cassie Scerbo, Dimitri Halkidis and Boo2Bullying please visit http://boo2bullying.org