“As many as 5.4 million kids stay home from school so they don’t have to face a bully,” former New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson said at the UFT Middle School Division’s citywide Anti-Bullying Conference, held virtually on Oct. 28. “I was one of those young people.”
Students from 105 schools registered for the conference, which focused on conflict-resolution strategies and how to be upstanders, not bystanders. “An upstander is someone who intervenes or stands up on someone’s behalf because they’re being attacked or being bullied,” said Nicholas Cruz, the UFT’s director of community and parent engagement.
Richard Mantell, the UFT vice president for middle schools, urged students not to give bullies the attention they want, whether they see the bullying happening in person or online.
“For the past year and a half, online bullying has been a very real issue,” Mantell said, encouraging students not to share or “like” a bully’s social media posts.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the union organized the annual conference “to make sure you have support in place for you to reach out to.”
The speakers — including WNBA pioneer and retired New York Liberty player Kym Hampton — shared their stories of being bullied as children, and students had the opportunity to earn prizes, including T-shirts and six footballs signed by Richardson. The Jets also provided 350 tickets with parking passes to one of their games.
The event also featured an Epic Theatre Ensemble film about school diversity and inclusion and a spoken word performance about what it means to be brave by Jasmine Davila, a UFT parent leader in the Bronx who is a writer and podcast host.
Mara Baboff, a UFT chapter leader and special education teacher at P721 in Queens who arranged for a group of children to join the conference virtually, said the event was “a very empowering experience for my kids.” One of her autistic students asked Richardson for advice about what to do if he is bullied because of his disability. “No one should be bullied or picked on,” Richardson said, recommending that students talk to their parents, teachers, coaches or other trusted adults.
Lauren Stoll, a special education teacher at the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Staten Island, said since the return to in-person learning, “the school’s biggest problem has been social-emotional challenges.”
One of her students asked Kareem Nelson, the founder of Wheelchairs Against Guns, what to do if he was bullied for no reason. Nelson recommended “catching the bully by himself and talking to him.” Stoll said her student found it helpful to know “he could be proactive” and “could befriend the bully and get to know him.”
“It’s up to us to stand together as a community,” Mantell said, “and take away a bully’s power.”