“A tragic situation has shaken a small Oklahoma town to its core,” says a local television announcer.
An eleven-year-old boy turned a gun on himself, taking his own life. “At this time,” said the superintendent of schools on television, “there’s no indication that bullying was a factor.” Ty’s parents disagree.
You see an agonizing shot of a man walking a woman into a funeral, saying, “We’re going to tuck the baby into the bed one more time.”
“I believe with all my heart,” says the minister, “that when a child dies, they go straight to be with God. They go straight to His presence.”
If I may insert my own agnosticism here, assuming God exists, he has allowed an eleven-year old to kill himself with a gun, leaving behind tormented parents, friends and family. As if reading my mind, the minister says, “But what does that leave for us, the ones who are left behind?”
Ty was almost too young to have had a story of his own. His segment of the movie is devoted primarily to his father, Kirk Smalley, and the organization he started, “Stand for the Silent.”
Ty’s best friend, a chubby cute kid shows where they used to hang out. The friend admits that in the 2nd grade he was a bully himself but by the fourth grade, he decided he didn’t want to hurt anyone. The friend, Tray, says he wanted to hurt the kids who hurt Ty, but Ty didn’t want him to. Ty said to leave them alone, that Tray was better than they were.
“If I was the king of the United States, I’d make it to where there was no popularity, everyone was equal.” (Uh-oh, the main opponent of bullying is an eleven-year-old socialist monarchist!) “That’s how it should be.”
Earlier this week, several people raised questions or offered comments here and on Facebook about the movie. One common theme is that at some point in their lives, people have to learn to stand up for themselves. By itself, that’s a true statement but it’s not what this movie is about. Two boys chose to kill themselves rather than “stand up” to their bullies. Perhaps they had stood up to their bullies and it didn’t work. Ja’Meya stood up to her bullies and was arrested for it. Kelby stood up to her bullies repeatedly but the harassment never stopped. Tyler would have been pummelled senselessly had he stood up to his bullies.
A friend pointed out the obvious – if these situations happened between adults – if another adult jammed a pencil into your arm, hit you with their mini-van, shoved you repeatedly on the bus, made comments day after day about shoving a broomstick your ass – you would have that person or persons arrested for assault and battery. THAT’S the lesson we need to be teaching kids. In society, you don’t get to treat each other this way. Crossing lines into abusive behavior results in dire consequences.
Unfortunately, all the dire consequences we see in this film are suffered by the victims and their families.
Ty’s dad stands in front of a one-room schoolhouse where his grandmother taught school. Prophetically, atop the front entrance is one word: PROGRESS. He talks about how his family has lived there for over a hundred years. Ty helped him build the house, he can’t just leave his home. Ty’s name is in the foundation of the house.
The motivational part of the film is when we see Ty’s dad with a laptop computer. He says he’d never been on the internet until six weeks prior but now he has a Facebook page. He started a group “Stand for the Silent” in Ty’s memory that has taken off like wildfire. This man is the least likely activist in the country but the loss of his son has prompted him to act.
“Be the difference. Be a friend. Smile. If we all do it together, we will change the world. Let’s get this done.”