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Anti-Bullying Lesson for NY Schoolkids

December 5, 2011

NEW YORK - When Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, visits Beacon High School in New York City today, she'll bring with her a courageous victim of schoolroom brutality. The visit will introduce a new lesson on bullying that is being added to the education curriculum for New York state.

The victim, Jamie Nabozny, sued his Wisconsin high school for not protecting him from beatings by classmates who were angered by his homosexuality. Since the favorable settlement of his case, he has traveled the country speaking to teenagers about bullying. He has been honored by the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights and his story is now part of lessons taught around the world.

"It's a huge honor to be chosen for the Defender award, as well as to be used in a curriculum on bullying. This has become my life's passion. It's something that is obviously very personal to me."

The Speak Truth to Power curriculum, a project of the RFK Center and NYSUT, New York's largest teachers union, has been taught to hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. and overseas.

Kennedy, a human rights activist, says the rarest form of courage - one most often faced by teenagers - is standing up to one's own friends, family or colleagues over oppression.

"They are constantly in situations where their classmates are saying things - saying racist jokes or sexist jokes - that they don't feel comfortable with, but if they stand up to them they might be ostracized. That's what's really so remarkable about this young man."

John Heffernan is with Speak Truth to Power, which uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights and urge them to take action. He says being named a Speak Truth to Power Defender puts Jamie Nabozny in some heady company, but he insists everyone has the tools and the capacity to become a human rights defender.

"You don't have to be a Vaclav Havel, you don't have to be an Ellie Weisel, you don't have to be a Desmond Tutu. You can be a Jamie Nabozny to create change in your own life or in your community."

Nabozny says progress has been made in building awareness of bullying in schools, yet suicides of tormented teenagers continue.

"I hear from kids every day on Facebook telling me about what they're going through, still. It's almost 20 years later, since I've been in school, and things have changed in some places but not a lot in others."

Jamie Nabozny's story is told in "Bullied," a documentary produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. More information is available at http://blogs.nysut.org/sttp/.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY