By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor
In his past life, Kirk Smalley was the father of two children and a sheet metal foreman in the small town of Perkins, OK. That all changed on May 13, 2010 when Ty, his 11-year-old son, took his life after being bullied daily at school for two years.
During an interview with Smalley a few months ago, he told me that he had no idea his son – a small, sweet boy who was bullied because of his size – had ever considered suicide as a way to put an end to his suffering. When the unimaginable happened, Kirk’s life changed completely.
Channeling an unimaginable grief
There are different ways to deal with the sorrow of losing a child. Smalley took his anguish and funneled it into a fervent mission to save as many children as he could from his son's fate.
When I wrote about Ty Field-Smalley's death and Kirk Smalley's work to fight bullying in October of this year, GreatSchools received more Facebook "likes" than any single article in our site's history.
There's a reason. Smalley's tireless message, told with compassion (for victims and bullies alike), is taking hold worldwide in a way that many anti-bullying efforts don't. By his count, he's gone to 280 schools and spoken to over 400,000 kids. Why is he getting through to parents, principals, teachers, and most particularly children? "Kids have a built-in bs detector," Smalley tells me. "They can tell when you are pulling something over on them. They can tell the message is coming from the heart. They get emotional. They cry with us. They feel like they can talk with us."
Through his non-profit organization, Stand for the Silent, Smalley speaks at any and every school that invites him. He recently even spoke – via the web – to a class of seventh grade students in Bangalore, India. These days, he can barely keep up with the demand; he's fully booked nearly six months in advance.
Remembering the "800 babies who have killed themselves"
"I have a list of over 800 babies who have killed themselves," Smalley says. We tell the stories of who they were. [The kids] get to see this person. They see this isn't a number, a percentage, a statistic."
Smalley says he has folders overflowing with emails from bullying victims who said they were going to kill themselves – until they heard him speak. He has another fat folder from reformed bullies who vow to stop tormenting other kids. "We teach [kids] 'I am somebody.' We teach them they can make a difference. They have a right to be who they are. We love them no matter who they are."
If you want Kirk Smalley to come speak at your school, email him. Some schools have money to pay for his transportation but even if they don't, he promises he'll come. "If there's a need," he says, "God finds a way."
Smalley left his job months ago so he could devote himself full-time to Stand for the Silent. Remarkably, he doesn't ask for a speaking fee when he visits schools.
This year, if you want to add ending bullying to your list of New Year's resolutions, you can start by going to his site and clicking "Donate" (a yellow button at the bottom of the home page). All donations are tax-deductible.