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Ten-year-old Hunter Suto looked Ronnie Bachman straight in the eye when the paraplegic speaker rolled up to him in an electric wheelchair, talked to him for a minute, and gave him a blue plastic bracelet to wear.
"This guy looks like an all-right person," the fifth-grader said. "He's telling us, 'Stop bullying and say nicer things to people.' "
The student at St. Joseph Catholic School in Erie, Mich., was one of about 300 middle schoolers who on Friday listened to a motivational talk by Mr. Bachman, 54, a radio and television broadcaster. Mr. Bachman was born with a severe leg deformity and lost his legs to amputation at age 4. The middle school students from St. Joseph Catholic, St. Patrick Catholic School, Carleton, Mich., and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School, Newport, Mich., were at a 75-minute assembly in St. Charles Borromeo's gym.
The boy told The Blade that he remembers both being bullied and acting like a bully. He then said that he would try to remember to think before he says anything to anyone.
"You guys are at the age when if you see somebody fall down the stairs, you crack up," Mr. Bachman told his audience. "A couple of years from now, if you see someone slip up, you'll reach for that person, saying 'Oh, my goodness! You could've fallen and hurt yourself.' "
Mr. Bachman, a graduate of the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Southfield, Mich., worked at radio stations throughout southeast Michigan. After a documentary film about his life was released in 1998, he began speaking to children throughout the state about how he learned to live a normal life -- despite taunting and teasing by other children -- with his "message of tolerance, diversity, and anti-bullying."
"We are all a little wacky, we are all a little crazy in middle school," he said in an interview. "So it's a perfect time to let them understand the power of their words, that they can affect someone's life -- not by punching or hitting them -- but just by the way they talk to them."
The assembly is a part of Mr. Bachman's 2011-2012 Walk This Way Tour, with 200 shows slated throughout the United States and Canada, and an audience of more than 6 million people. The tour, which started in September, is sponsored by the Monroe Dodge Chrysler Ram Superstore, Dodge 20 Group, and Linamar Corp., at no charge to participating schools.
"Bullying has been an ongoing problem in all schools," Karen Johnson said. "We thought it would be a great, uplifting assembly to bring the kids together and [help them] understand that our faith is to uplift us and not to bring down others."
The same week Mr. Bachman was talking to students of St. Charles, the Monroe Public Schools board of education passed an anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy. The state also is discussing legislation concerning bullying.
Barry Martin, the Michigan Public Schools director of state and federal programs, said the policy defines harassment and bullying to mean any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student, employee, or volunteer based on any characteristic of the student, employee, or volunteer, which creates a hostile environment. The policy includes and defines electronic situations, harassment and bullying, and sexual harassment. It also defines activities that could lead up to a student's expulsion from school or an employee's termination.
"My focus this particular tour is middle school because so much is going on with cutting, suicide, and just cyber-bullying, you name it," Mr. Bachman said. "Clearly, when they see me, they understand very quickly, 'Ron understands feeling different, being picked on, the enormity, if you will, of living 54 years this way.' And I am just trying to get them through middle school, right?"
The founder of the Walk This Way Foundation, Mr. Bachman said he aims at empowering, enabling, and emboldening all who participate in the organization.
"The W.T.W.F. wishes to cultivate Courage, Ambition, Strength and Determination, and above all, Self Worth!!!" the foundation's Web site says.
"Ronnie believes that love, relationships, personal, professional and spiritual, all stem from how we [not the world] see ourself deep within! To walk this way is to embrace the path that life has given you. The W.T.W.F. wants you to breathe, to live, to love, to laugh, and experience life to its fullest capacity."
Contact Mike Sigov at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6089.