Temescal Canyon High School students learned a lesson Thursday morning they’ll never forget—to be the difference when it comes to bullying.

They sat attentively through an hour-long assembly presented by Teen Truth Live, an organization that raises awareness of bullying and other social issues in schools. Included was a screening of Teen Truth’s powerful film, ‘Bullying and Violence,’ directed by Erahm Christopher, Teen Truth’s co-founder.

The documentary was emotional. It was raw and it was real. Students and teachers alike wiped tears from their eyes.

For some students, the presentation was overwhelming, for others it was the light at the end of the tunnel. It was the moment the teens learned they were not alone in being a victim of bullying.

The documentary, which opened with footage from the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, focused on social issues that can lead to bullying, school violence, drugs and alcohol, body image and self-esteem issues.

It featured students discussing their experiences in dealing with bullies. Included in the assembly were personal speeches presented by two Elsinore High School students that challenged students to think about how their reactions to these issues impact the lives of those around them.

Danny Bedford, a senior at Elsinore High School, shared his story on being bullied.

He has cerebral palsy and explained how many teens his age make fun of him because they simply don’t understand his disability. He said even now as a senior, one would think the bullying would have stopped, but it hasn’t.

“I was born in a body that doesn’t function like it’s supposed to all the time,” Danny said. “It is part of me, but the way I walk does not define who I am. If you look past my challenges you’ll see I’m human just like you.”

Danny was nervous. He paused a few times and had to gather his thoughts before he continued to share his story. What came next was unexpected.

The more than 100 students in the auditorium began to cheer for Danny. With the encouragement of his peers, he was able to finish telling his story.

“I challenge you to accept people for who they are and not for how they look or what they wear. If we remove our outer shell, we are all the same.”

Thursday’s Teen Truth Live experience proved to have a significant impact on Temescal Canyon students.

Many of them high-fived Danny after the assembly and others spent time with Christopher after the presentation, sharing their personal experiences of being bullied. They asked what they could do and how they could get involved to help make a difference.

“That’s the point,” Christopher said. “It’s to challenge them to think differently and empower them. We hope to build confidence in them and also have them take initiative to stand up for someone else.”

Dr. Kathleen Roberts, assistant superintendent of student support services for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, said the problem of bullying is alive and well and cannot be ignored.

“We have this tremendous opportunity to end the bullying through education,” she said. “Maybe this (film) will help students think twice before they say another unkind word.”

Christopher said the inspiration for the film came about in response to the Columbine High School shooting. He said the questions always brought up were “how” and “why” something like that could happen. But no one was asking the students “why” he said.

“I wanted to give them a voice and an opportunity,” he said.

In the end, that’s why I ask students—if you’re not being the difference, what are you doing? Nothing. The change has to come with them first.”

Thursday’s presentation in Lake Elsinore was a partnership between Teen Truth Live and Special Olympics Southern California’s Project Unify. It is the first time the hybrid program is presented in the state, organizers said.

Article and Photo by Yazmin Alvarez © Copyright 2011 Southwest Riverside News Network. All Rights Reserved.

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