"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do." -- Edward Hale, as quoted by Kirk Smalley
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The Chillicothe High School hosted one of this week's four assemblies pertaining to bullying (through the Stand for the Silent movement, and put on by Livingston County C2000 and the Coalition for Cultural Awareness) Wednesday morning at Gary Dickinson Performing Arts Center.
The Chillicothe Middle School hosted the same program at their locale in the afternoon Wednesday, and Southwest Livingston County R-1 (Ludlow) and the Chillicothe Comfort Inn and Suites did so on Tuesday.
Kirk Smalley, the assembly's speaker, was the father of a bullied child; "was", at least semantically speaking, because his son, Ty Fields-Smalley, committed suicide when he was 11 years old.
It was spring 2010. May 13. Perins, Okla. His "baby," as Kirk often refers to Ty, was sitting in the school gymnasium with his best friend earlier in the day, when a student who had been bullying him for close to two years began antagonizing him once more.
"I guess Ty finally had enough," Kirk said. "He retaliated.
"You know what happens when you retaliate?" Kirk asked the students. "The second guy always gets caught, doesn't he?"
Ty was suspended from school for three days. His mother — Kirk's wife, Laura — picked up her son. She took him home. She told him to do his homework, and to do his chores, and she said that they would talk about the matter that night when everybody got home.
She returned to work. They were short-staffed that day.
"My baby didn't do his homework," Kirk said. "He didn't do his chores. Instead, he killed himself."
It was Laura who first found Ty Fields-Smalley's body in the mid-afternoon hours of May 13, 2010, sprawled on the couple's bedroom floor, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She called Kirk at his place of work. Kirk is a construction worker, he told the students — not a public speaker.
"She was screaming," Kirk said. "I couldn't understand a single word she was saying. She just screamed...
"She said 'He's dead,'" said Kirk. "I asked her 'Who?' She said 'Ty.'"
CHS Principal Brian Sherrow welcomed the gathered students, faculty and staff, and guests to the assembly within the Gary Dickinson Performing Arts Center Wednesday.
"This morning, we are fortunate to welcome Kirk Smalley, of the Stand for the Silent Movement," he said.
Four CHS students — Matt Shaffer, Claire Chapman, Hayley Earp, and Abbie Clark — came to stage left, and stood behind a line of five vacated folding chairs, each supporting at a slant the backed photograph of an unknown young person, staring out, smiling, into the gathered crowd.
As reads the SFTS webpage: "At the beginning of each Stand for the Silent school presentation, student leaders read the biographies of bullying victims that have lost their lives to suicide as submitted by their families. Stand for the Silent honors the memory of these kids, and we thank the families for sharing their stories."
The students took turns reading out the names and biographical information provided with each.
Austin Hallsted: Dec. 18, 2010; creative, enthusiastic, depressed; 16. Brandon Swartwood: Dec. 16, 2000; gifted mechanic; outdoorsman; 18. Brianna De Vries: April 28, 2010; Australian; sporty; cyber-bully victim; 14. Montana Lance: Jan. 21, 2010; suspended for retaliation; hung himself in nurses bathroom; 9. Ty Fields-Smalley: May 13, 2010; big heart, smile; hunter; small for his age; 11.
Kirk Smalley spends a final few moments alone with the second photograph of his young son — the one placed upon an easel stand back by the stage podium. The pair stand face to face, on equal level, before Kirk comes forward and begins his talk.
"My name is Kirk, and I'm Ty's dad," he said. "I'm hoping I can teach you all today. And I'm hoping you can teach me that there are other people who care for others out there."
"Stand for the Silent was started by 68 high school kids from Oklahoma City," Kirk Smalley said. "They didn't know us. Those kids didn't know my boy. They heard about what happened to Ty, and [they] decided that they'd had enough. They weren't going to put up with this happening in their world without them doing everything they could to make it stop."
The SFTS program is described as a platform for the Smalley family to share their story and offer education and tools they hope will prevent similar tragedies from happening to another child, or within another family.
Smalley has met face to face with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle — admitted that while he didn't vote for the guy, he was impressed by him. He told the students that the first couple cared about them and their well-being, as parents of student daughters, themselves. They promised to pass national anti-bullying legislation after Oklahoma legislators had refused to do so for the Smalleys one year to the day of Ty Fields-Smalley's burial.
"[Michelle] walked up to me. He had tears on her face," he said. "She hugged me, and she held on to me. All I could think of to say was 'You help our babies.' And she said, 'I will.'"
Kirk asked the students if they knew a performer by the name of "Lady Gaga." He joked that he didn't when she personally called him, and asked if she could help spread the message of Stand for the Silent's cause.
"I googled her," Smalley said. "She wears a dress made of meat, you guys."
Gaga began her Born This Way Foundation in 2011. Its mission is listed as follows: "to foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated. The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world."
Explained Smalley, all the laws in the world make no difference unless people make a change, themselves.
"We've got laws against just about everything, but bad things just keep going on," he said. "Nothing's going to change until we stand up and say 'We've had enough.' You don't stand up and say 'What can I do?' You do something.
"Guys, I know you're not perfect. I want you to know, though, that we can go back, and we can apologize. It can make a world of difference. Trust me, I know. It takes a lot of strength -- it takes a lot of courage -- to be the one in a group of your own friends to stand up and say 'You know what, guys? Thats not right. That [is not] funny."
Smalley told the students that he believed it was time that more people learned "respect for others, tolerance for differences, and how to be the difference in someone else's life."
"Each and every one of us has a right to live this life," he said. "Before we learn to respect everyone else, though, we have to learn to respect ourselves."
A video shot by high school students was played for the group, in support of the SFTS movement.
Shaffer led the students gathered in reciting the SFTS pledge, which was displayed via projector throughout the assembly's entirety. It reads:
"From this day forward I promise to respect those around me as well as respect myself. I am somebody, and I can make a difference. I can make another feel loved. I can be the helping hand that leads another back to a path of hope and aspiration. I will not stand silent as others try to spread hatred through my community. Instead, I pledge to lift up these victims, and show them that their life matters. I will be the change, because I am somebody."
Clark read a list of questions, and requested response from the group, similar to the pledge format prior.
Kirk Smalley passed out blue wristbands to members of the crowd as he spoke during the assembly. They read "SFTS" and "I am somebody."
"You've got three kinds of people in this world," Smalley said. "People who wish things would happen, people who make things happen, and people who think 'What just happened?'"
His mother used to tell him that. It's something that drives him.
He pointed to his son's photograph.
"[After he died,] I made a promise to that boy that I would stop bullying in this world. I don't break promises to my kid.
"But I can't keep my last promise to my baby — I can't do it alone. I need your help. If somebody might have stood up 984 days ago, my baby would still be here.
"You and me have that power."
Kirk gives the international symbol for "I Love You" with his hands -- his pinky, pointer finger, and thumb extended. He's not ashamed of it. It has become an SFTS staple. He said that a middle school girl once told him it looked like an "lmL".
"I didn't see it at first," Kirk said. "But then I did, and I thought, 'That's pretty cool.'"
LML has turned into a viral saying, and a battle cry for the SFTS movement worldwide, now. Throughout the entirety of his assemblies, Kirk will hold it up as he talks. He asks the students to do the same if they see he is having trouble speaking. He cries sometimes. He will pause to collect himself. The cause is just so important to him.
Little by little, the students of CHS held up their hands for Kirk Smalley on Wednesday. Slowly, but surely, more and more, at the assembly's end, they raised their hands. "#LML" and "#SFST" began trending locally on Twitter that afternoon. One voice yelled out "I am somebody!" during a lulled moment near the assembly's end.
"Yes, you are," Kirk said. "You all are."