ORLANDO — The official name was UpStander Day, and it was the first annual one in both Orlando and Orange County.
And while the event held on Sunday at the Lake Eola Amphitheater offered a beautiful view of the lake and pleasantly mild temperatures for early October in Central Florida, the theme of the program was a serious, even somber one.
“We are here today to say bullying will not be tolerated,” said Chase Smith, an aide to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. That included, he said, standing up for people who didn’t fit in with the crowd, but have every reason to embrace the qualities that make them special.
“There is nothing wrong with being different,” Smith said. “There is nothing wrong with being unique. There is nothing wrong with being who you are.”
During the event, Smith joined his former boss, Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, to read proclamations from the city of Orlando and from Orange County government proclaiming Oct. 2 as the first official UpStander Day. This was a community event designed to make Central Florida residents aware of the problem of bullying, and it was organized by the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center in Maitland.
“This is now an official day here in Orange County,” said Lauren Rowe, the WKMG-Channel 6 anchor, who served as the moderator of the program.
“We are all going to sign this proclamation that says we are UpStanders,” she said.
This initiative dates back to last December, when the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center first launched “UpStanders: Stand Up to Bullying,” a program based on research showing that both victims and bullies suffer lifelong consequences from their actions. The single most effective way to prevent bullying, the studies noted, is intervention and peer pressure from other students.
The rally at Lake Eola, and the proclamations from the city and county government, were meant to heighten awareness of this sensitive issue.
“This is a community-wide effort,” Rowe said. “It affects people of all ages.”
An UpStander, she said, is a person who refuses to look the other way when someone is being bullied or harassed.
On its web site, the Holocaust Memorial Resource Center notes that “We all know about victims, perpetrators, rescuers and bystanders. But what is an UpStander? Upstander is a word that has just recently come in to use (and is not yet acknowledged in dictionaries), a term coined by journalist Samantha Power to identify people who are willing to stand up and take action in defense of others. It can refer to individuals who take large risks during wars and political turmoil, and it also identifies people who take small but helpful steps to shield others from bullying and other injustices.”
As Rowe noted, the center based in Maitland wants people to not only recognize the term, but also embrace it.
“You might wonder why the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center would sponsor an event like this,” she said. “There is a clear connection, if you just think about it. During the Holocaust, bystanders became rescuers.”
The same can happen today, she said, in schools and neighborhoods all across the country when anyone starts to become the victim of bullying. And the problem is far more widespread than many think, she added.
“The statistics are pretty scary, and bullying is not going away,” Rowe said. “This is about turning bystanders — those who would stand there and watch bullying happen — into UpStanders so they can do something about it. Fifty percent of bullying stops right away when people speak up.”
Sheehan said Orlando got a tragic reminder recently of how bullying has terrible consequences, when a police officer found a 9-year-old boy who had tried to hang himself, and left behind a note saying he could no longer put up with the bullying he was being subjected to. The boy is now on life support at a local hospital, Sheehan said.
“We don’t have to go very far to tell a story of how bullying has impacted our community,” she said. “It’s a horrible story, but there’s something we can do to help. We can do something to stop this. We need to accept, not tolerate, one another.”
Smith agreed, saying “One thing we can’t get used to, or even begin to accept, is bullying in our schools.”
For more information on the UpStanders initiative, log on to www.holocaustedu.org.
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