It's been almost three years since Kirk Smalley lost his 11-year-old son, Ty, to suicide.
Small for his age, Ty became an easy target for bullies. The youngster was about to start sixth grade, but was the size of a fourth grader, his father said.
"They called him ‘Tiny Tim' and shoved him into lockers," Mr. Smalley said. "He hated that. Once, they even put him in a trash can."
Since Ty's death, Mr. Smalley and his wife, Laura, of Perkins, Okla., have made it their mission to raise awareness about bullying and the devastating harm it causes.
"We relive that every single day, sometimes three to four times a day," Mr. Smalley said. "But if us sharing our story saves one child, it's all worth it."
He will share his story at the University of Toledo on Monday. The free event is open to the public and will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Field House Room 2100 on the college's main campus.
"The message is the same for all age groups," Mr. Smalley said. "They all need to know the exact same thing: You are somebody."
The couple have spoken at grade schools, colleges, prisons, and even day care centers. The Smalleys address their audiences with the same approach no matter the age of the group.
"We talk from our hearts," he said. "We tell what happened to Ty and ask them to help us make it stop."
Lisa Pescara-Kovach, associate professor and co-chairman of the Bullying Task Force at UT, said the university is doing its part to spread the word.
"This is something we see at the university level and in the workplace. There are people targeted by child and adult bullies every day," said Mrs. Pescara Kovach, author of School Shootings and Suicides: Why We Must Stop the Bullies.
"It's the bystanders that need to intervene. Teachers, future teachers, psychologists, parents, and school administrators, will all be at this event. They can get the information they need on how to get involved."
One out of every four children is bullied, Mr. Smalley said, citing U.S. Justice Department figures. At least two children are bullied every seven minutes and 25 percent of kids in the United States will have a plan on how they'll take their own lives before they graduate high school. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24.
"We're raising a generation that doesn't even know what the word empathy means," Mr. Smalley said. "They play video games where they get points for killing people. They watch shows like South Park, where a little boy, Kenny, dies every episode. What does that teach our children? Death isn't real? Life is cheap?"
After Ty's death, the Smalleys became anti-bullying advocates and started Stand for the Silent, a non-profit organization that spreads awareness about bullying. As they traveled the country sharing their story, demand grew and the couple took on the campaign full-time.
"I was a construction worker and Laura worked as a cafeteria worker at the school Ty attended. After he killed himself, she never went back," Mr. Smalley said. "After we lost Ty, it didn't matter. "
In addition to school presentations, the Smalleys were featured in Director Lee Hirsch's feature documentary film Bully. CNN included Mr. Smalley in its The Bully Effect: An Anderson Cooper Special that premiered Feb. 28 on Anderson Cooper 360.
The family has been invited to speak in Sweden, Iceland, Seoul, Ireland, and several places in Canada.
"We're booked through the rest of the school year and through January of next year," Mr. Smalley said.
The couple have visited almost 650 schools and camps and reached more than 664,000 people. There are over 400 Stand for the Silent chapters in schools and communities across the globe.
"We've got people in Australia, India and the United Kingdom standing up trying to make it stop," Mr. Smalley said. "It's a worldwide problem and we're trying to reach the world."
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at email@example.com or 419-724-6133.