HERRIMAN — The Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition kicked off Friday under a cloud of confetti as students at Herriman High School rallied around representatives from the Utah Jazz and challenged themselves to stand up for their peers.
The coalition, a public-private partnership comprised of educators and members of Utah's business community, was incorporated in August with a mission to end bullying in Utah, said Don Olsen, the group's executive director.
"We’re a group of business, community and education leaders who have come around the table to try and make a difference in what we see is a major social issue," Olsen said.
One out of every five Utah students is believed to be negatively impacted by bullying, he said. To help put an end to bullying, the coalition is focusing first on empowering students, then educating parents and supporting educators, Olsen said.
"Any initiative like this has to begin with the student," he said. "You can’t tell a student not to do something. But if the students create a culture where bullying in any of its forms is not tolerated, if they say, ‘not in our house,’ that’s what is going to make it succeed."
The coalition kicked off its efforts Friday with an assembly at Herriman High School, featuring the Jazz Bear, Jazz Dunk Team, Jazz Dancers, broadcaster Craig Bolerjack and motivational speaker Chris "Little Boogeyman" Hollyfield, a former professional wrestler.
Hollyfield encouraged students to have respect for themselves and for those around them. He also shared his own personal experiences with bullying, saying that as a child in school he was teased and excluded as a result of his dwarfism.
"I never, ever once let a bully stop me from my dreams," Hollyfield said. "You must love yourself and understand who you are because you can’t be nobody but yourself."
Bolerjack challenged students to be "difference makers." He said it can be as simple as talking to someone who is feeling down or offering a helping hand.
"Too often we turn a blind eye to the problems that exist all around us," he said. "We know it’s there. We see it, we hear it, and what to do we do? Most of the time we simply walk on."
The event saw the Jazz Bear arrive on a motorcycle and spray students with several cans of silly string, as well as high-flying performances by the Jazz Dunk Team and Stunt Team.
Dozens of students wore shirts featuring the school's anti-bullying slogan "I am the C.U.R.E.," which stands for courage, unity, revolution and empower.
Student body president Logan Bingham said the "I am the C.U.R.E." slogan was chosen to emphasize that it takes the actions of individuals to effect a larger change.
"We chose this slogan so that when we’re alone and not with the rest of the group, we ourselves are the cure," he said, "and then together, we’re a bigger cure for this revolution."
Garret Evans, a junior at Herriman High School, said he hopes he can make a difference at his school by being a friend to everyone.
"I feel very proud to wear this shirt," he said. "I just want to make everyone feel like they have a place at this school, that they can come here and be safe and feel welcome."
Olsen said the coalition held its first event at Herriman High School because the students there were quick to embrace the anti-bullying mission. He said similar events will be held around the state as the coalition continues to come together.
"This is only the beginning," Olsen said.