Putting the Brakes on Bullying
812 Sheldon Ave. SE
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49507
End Bullying, Save Lives is a newly founded Grand Rapids nonprofit working to stop bullying. The organization’s three founders have all been victims of some form of bullying.
Yesterday’s victim is today’s victim advocate when it comes to putting a stop to bullying in Grand Rapids.
Sheri Munsell, president and CEO of End Bullying, Save Lives founded the anti-bullying nonprofit organization with two friends in May 2013 to raise awareness, educate the community, and help protect victims from the dangers of bullying. Munsell says that bullying is not yesterday’s problem, but still looms large, particularly in Grand Rapids area schools.
Munsell, now 26, formed the group, with years of firsthand misery, having suffered at the hands of playground tyrants who tormented her early on.
Munsell recalls that one of many factors establishing her as a target was being poor. Low family income meant that everything
Munsell recalls that one of many factors establishing her as a target was being poor. Low family income meant that everything new became another trendy treasure that she couldn't have.
new became another trendy treasure that she couldn’t have. She was ridiculed for lacking the material things her peers possessed, and she only dreamed of owning.
She is black, and even in a racially diverse educational environment, her ethnicity was a free pass for racially motivated taunting. It was more justification that bullies employed to single out the little girl with brown skin, coarse hair, and facial features they deemed too different. Her situation worsened, as looking fashionable became oh-so-important during middle school.
“It was just everything,” she says. “People picked on me because of my shoes or my clothes or my hair, anything. The more popular kids, the ones who called me a ‘loser’ excluded me from social activities, saying, ‘we don’t want you near us.’”
The humiliation escalated until Munsell ended the pain by dropping out of school in the ninth grade.
Munsell eventually finished high school and, sans a psychology or social work degree, pours herself, side-by-side with her two colleagues, into a self-funded, grass-roots campaign operating from a house with a couple of computers and a 24/7 crisis hotline. End Bullying, Save Lives exists for now without any federal, state, local and private grants.
Today, Munsell is an anti-bullying champion who uses her own experiences to promote the anti-bullying message – striving to connect with and empower young people and to educate their families, educators, and neighbors through the new Grand Rapids area group. While it’s a local organization, it is modeled after the national movement “The Bully Project” and the federal government’s website Stopbullying.gov, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
End Bullying is making their name more well-known by appearing at civic, faith-based, and community events; hosting town hall-type symposiums; and engaging in social media. For Munsell, it’s about promoting and anti-bullying message and protecting young victims who may have nowhere else to turn. With a comprehensive anti-bullying plan as their guide, the
Today, Munsell is an anti-bullying champion who uses her own experiences to promote the anti-bullying message.
group’s community outreach efforts are under way. In-school anti-bullying workshops and support for young people creating their own in-school campaigns are in development, and End Bullying is beginning to build relationships with school administrators, educators, and area young people.
End Bullying, Save Lives kicked off with a community dance party last August at The Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids. In March 2014, it hosted the first of four community discussion breakfasts at Steepletown Neighborhood Services.
National bullying statistics are sobering, considering the numbers cited by Stopbullying.gov. In 2011, according to national studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of students in grades 9–12 have experienced bullying.
In Grand Rapids, at least for now, victims have someone to talk with day or night, via the End Bullying, Save Lives hotline at 616-379-9019. The staff gives frequent referrals to connect young people with the appropriate resources. They include local law enforcement, counseling services, faith-based organizations, The National Suicide Prevention Hotline, area social service agencies, and community health and wellness agencies.
The most common complaint is that the bullies won’t stop, and teachers won’t listen. Most callers, Munsell says, simply need a sympathetic ear, and she’s happy to lend hers.
“As for us, you don’t have to be super-qualified to be able to listen and to help connect people with the resources that can help them and may be able to give them the tools to help themselves,” says Munsell. “All three of us have been bullied at some time in our lives. We know what this feels like.”