Tears flowed down the faces of some who watched a special screening of "Bully" on Saturday at Cutting Hall Performing Arts Center in Palatine — the same place where a father who was featured in the movie spoke a year ago, saying his son had taken his own life as a result of bullying.
The movie is a documentary telling stories about kids who were severely bullied. Two families also shared stories about losing their sons, who committed suicide as a result of bullying. Kirk Smalley was one of the fathers who lost his son, and he spoke at Cutting Hall last year.
The screening was sponsored by the Palatine Park District, Harper College InZone and Northwest Community Healthcare.
After the movie, a panel addressed audience members' questions. The panel included Ashley Knight, dean of student affairs at Harper College; Officer Stephan Liggio of the Harper College Police Department; Rev. Michelle McNamara, transitional consultant with the United Church of Christ; and Kathy Pluymert, director of educational programs for Community Consolidated School District 15.
Pluymert said District 15 had an "Expect Respect" program, which teaches students what respect looks like. Her advice to children being bullied: "They should look them in the eye and tell them to stop and walk away,"
She said the district also teaches kids that if someone tells them to stop doing something, they should always stop. Kids are encouraged to let teachers and counselors know if they are being bullied and are told to stand up for peers who may need a helping hand.
"We have a special obligation to protect the kids who are most vulnerable," said Pluymert.
In the documentary, one of the boys was bullied due to his physical appearance, and a girl was bullied due to her sexual orientation.
A member of the audience noted that kids in the movie didn't feel like they could open up to anyone, including their parents, and he asked the panelists what parents could do. Pluymert said it's important to create a safe, open environment for kids at home and for parents to show their vulnerable side.
Marjorie Orlando of Palatine said she had come to the screening because her son was bullied when he went to school and it has had a negative impact on their relationship because he believes she could have done something more. She said that even at 50, he is negatively affected by being bullied in school.
"We have to go back to the family," said Orlando, who is trying to mend her relationship with her son. "We have to somehow involve the families of the bullies."
Liggio said there is a "fine line" when it comes to what goes on in people's homes. McNamara added that sometimes the nuclear family is not the biggest influence in a child's life.
"But we can affect the society," said Liggio.
He said people are taking a step in the right direction by openly discussing the issue. He said it takes everyone — parents, students, teachers and administrators — to make a positive change.
"I hope all of us come together to do the one thing they can do to make a difference," said Knight.
"We just want to bring awareness," said Carol Lange, cultural arts coordinator for the Palatine Park District and an organizer of the event. "Bullying happens everywhere. It's not just at school; it's in all the playgrounds, online (and other places). I think people would be surprised about what bullying is."
Lange said the movie is graphic and sad but opens people's eyes to what students are going through.
"Hopefully, we'll get some kids to stop being bullies," said Lange.