Local Teens Defeat the Label Through Anti-Bullying Campaign

By: Kurt Buesching | September 23, 2011

Weirdo. Nerd. Geek. Airhead. They’re all labels adolescents encounter – sometimes by being labeled themselves, sometimes by labeling others and sometimes simply by hearing the labels thrust upon others.

Enter Defeat the Label, a local anti-bullying campaign that’s headed for the national spotlight. Inspired by Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield, an organization for children with special needs and their families, Defeat the Label encourages middle-school and high-school students to stand up against bullying not only in principle, but through their actions.

Boosting the campaign’s impact is a group of celebrities who are speaking out against bullying and wearing the campaign’s signature jackets, which bear common stereotype words like “dork” and “weird.”

“But when you zip it open, it is defeating the label,” said Bassie Shemtov, who runs Friendship Circle’s Life Town program and was instrumental in starting the program. “It is ripping the label. Those labels are not okay. (The sweatshirts are) cool. It’s funky. The kids like it, and you get the message across at the same time.”

“We are very lucky to have lots of great celebrities that are really making this an important part for them as well,” Shemtov said. “Tinie Tempah, Cody Simpson, Joe Jonas and Miley Cyrus are just four of the celebrities.”

Shemtov said the idea for Defeat the Label came about through Friendship Circle’s buddy program, which pairs children with special needs with teenage students. Staff noticed that the teenagers were accepting and welcoming with their special needs buddies, but often fell back into labeling and bullying in their peer groups.

Friendship Circle piloted Defeat the Label last year with a pilot curriculum program at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills and Walled Lake Western High School. The in-school program touched on courage, confidence and other aspects of defeating bullying. What’s more, it challenged students to complete periodic “missions” to help defeat bullying in their schools.

For example, one mission asked students to post the Defeat the Label logo somewhere, which in turn gets other students thinking about it and asking questions. 

“The response was unbelievable,” Shemtov said. “The kids love it.”

This year, in addition to celebrities that are helping to expand Defeat the Label beyond Michigan,Friendship Circle has expanded its curriculum to include five area high schools. The curriculum will run monthly for eight months and will include 100 students from each school, broken up into groups of 25. 

“It’s a very dynamic lesson,” Shemtov said. “Beyond hoping these 100 strong kids will stand up against bullying, each lesson will have an action step. So it’s not staying with just the 100 students.”

The program is reinforced through the Web site – www.defeatthelabel.com – that includes weekly missions and asks young people to report back on the site with how they carried out the mission. For example, a recent mission asked people to consider what things they have said, or names they have called people, that they would take back if they could.

One person who completes the weekly mission and reports back will win a prize.

Australian singer Cody Simpson, who’s pictured front and center on the Web site, provided a free concert at Somerset Mall in Troy on Aug. 28 to help get the Defeat the Label message out to the masses. At the concert, he announced that May 4, 2012 will be National Stand Up Against Bullying Day 2012. At noon, kids in schools across the country will symbolically stand up against bullying.

As you see Defeat the Label sweatshirts and logos cropping up around town and even on television, remember that it started here in Metro Detroit. And don’t forget to stand up against bullying, whatever form it may take.

“There is a way to stand up and there is a way to have the courage and have your friends support you,” Shemtov said. “They’ll be proud of you. And more than anything, you’ll be proud of yourself.”

For more information about Defeat the Label or to inquire about workshops at your school, visit www.defeatthelabel.com.