New Friendship Circle
campaign to curb teen
bullying gears up with
line, online missions.
writer Cody Simpson
features Defeat The
Label on his website
and will perform a free
concert in support of
the campaign Aug. 28
at. Nerd. Ugly. Loser. Weird.
If you believe that words can-
not be hurtful, look at the crestfallen face
of the girl who has just been put down by
her so-called friends. Again. Or the boy
walking away from the basketball court,
head down and shoulders slumped, after
the other players laughed at his efforts to
make the team.
Teenage bullying, whether by words,
physical force or electronic means, has
become a national epidemic as deadly as
any disease. According to a 2007 survey
sponsored by the National Institutes of
Health, approximately 5.5 million teens
were victims of some form of bullying
during the school year. The consequences
include depression, low self-esteem, poor
school performance, self-harm behaviors,
A powerful new teen-targeted campaign
called "Defeat the Label" is determined
to stop the scourge. A program to help
eliminate the negative labels that teens
frequently attach to one another was con-
ceived by Bassie Shemtov of Friendship
Circle of Michigan, a nonprofit organiza-
tion that provides programs and services
for children with special needs and their
families. With the help of other local
groups, community leaders and a federal
anti-bullying grant, the program is taking
shape and gaining momentum.
No Innocent Bystanders
Shemtov became aware that many of the
teenage volunteers who display such kind-
ness toward children with special needs
were not as compassionate when relat-
ing to members of their own peer group.
While many were not actively engaging
August 11 • 2011
in bullying behaviors, they also were not
intervening in situations where they saw
others being bullied.
Just as soldiers defend their allies in
battle and athletes protect their team-
mates on the playing field, Defeat the
Label purports that anyone who stands
and watches someone else being bullied is
as guilty as the perpetrator.
"We decided there must be a way to take
these bystanders and teach, motivate and
guide them to do what's right," Shemtov
said. "This is our main audience because
we believe we have the capacity to make a
Taking The Message To Schools
Because teens spend so much of their time
in school, it was a natural place to carry
the message. West Bloomfield Police Chief
Michael Patton was involved in the effort to
bring the program into the schools.
"A lot of the bullying that goes on is
unnecessary and unfortunate he said.
"Defeat the Label can be productive in
reducing tension and negativity; that's help-
ful from a public safety standpoint:'
Successful pilot programs were con-
ducted this year at Andover High School in
Bloomfield Hills and Walled Lake Western
High School; both will run full-length pro-
grams this fall, along with West Bloomfield
"It was very eye-opening to see that
people are all different and to respect that:'
said Jenna Silverstein of Novi, a Friendship
Circle volunteer who participated in the
pilot program at Walled Lake Western.
The curriculum, developed by a team of
professionals that included educators such
as Dr. Gina Yoon of Wayne State University,
consists of eight monthly interactive work-
shop sessions. The program is designed to
provide middle- and high-school students
with knowledge and strategies that will