The Jazz Bear, boy band Beyond 5 and former professional wrestler Chris "Little Boogeyman" Hollyfield joined the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition in an assembly aimed at ending bullying and encouraging victims to seek help.
The coalition travels to schools throughout the state to assist student-led campaigns against bullying by providing curriculum, training, tip lines and promotional paraphernalia at no cost to schools. The group visits mainly middle and high schools, but it also has smaller programs for elementary schools, according to Don Olsen, the coalition's executive director.
When it was established in partnership with local business executives and educators in August 2013, the coalition expected to be able to support a maximum of 10 schools. The coalition spends an average of $3,500 on each program, according to Olsen.
Since its first assembly in March, the coalition has grown to facilitate programs at 40 schools, with a waiting list of "literally hundreds" more seeking support in anti-bullying efforts, Olsen said.
"This has happened a lot faster than we thought it would," he said. "As quickly as we get resources, we turn them around and put them into schools. Our list of schools will grow."
While Olsen acknowledges that success is difficult to measure for the organization, he says working to create a culture of respect and kindness, especially in Utah's schools, is a worthwhile investment.
"What we're looking for is an attitude change, for students to inculcate into their being a more inclusive and welcoming attitude," he said. "We're trying to make kids realize everybody can do something. I can be kind. I can be decent. I can make a difference."
In Monday's assembly, Hollyfield turned the thunderous cheers from hundreds of students into near silence as he shared personal experiences of being bullied in school because of his dwarfism. He also spoke of the seen and unseen wounds that come from cyber, social, verbal and physical bullying.
"I've experienced a lot of things in my life. But I'll tell you this: I didn't allow a bully to stop me from my happiness," Hollyfield said. "I may not be able to change the way I look, but I can change my attitude toward people."
Madeline Crandall, spokeswoman for the Utah Jazz, said the Jazz Bear, stunt team and dancers perform at such assemblies in support of the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition. Team member Derrick Favors has also supported the coalitions efforts by donating tickets through the Random Acts of Kindness incentive program, a similar initiative.
"Our players are people that kids look up to, and we feel it is very important to have them involved in this effort," Crandall said.
Jared Read, a senior at Copper Hills High School, said such campaigns make a difference, especially in large schools where bullying can be difficult to observe.
"It was really cool how they were able to bring all these cool things that students enjoy and incorporate a good message," Read said. "I think it's really important. Here at Copper Hills, we're so big, kids kind of get lost. This will be a good resource to help with that."