The bullying epidemic seemed to have hit a tragic tipping point last year, with countless suicides due to gay bullying hitting the headlines. While Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better Project to support gay teens dealing with adversity, two 24- year olds were traveling the country bringing their Kind Campaign to young girls in an effort to stop "girl against girl crime".
It all started in 2009, when upon graduation, Lauren Parsekian and Molly Stroud, hit the road traveling 10,000 miles collecting stories from hundreds of females all over America. The result was an emotionally charged documentary, Finding Kind, and the beginnings of an entire movement emphasizing how kindness can "bring awareness and healing to the negative lasting effects of abuse within the 'girl world'":
What inspired you to begin the Kind Campaign?
Lauren: Finding a way to stop girl-against-girl "crime" from happening is something that has been on my heart for as long as I can remember. Becoming a filmmaker, an author, a public speaker, a teacher...these are all careers I have thought about with one main goal: to create an outlet and awareness about the emotional, verbal and physical abuse within female relationships.
The project was inspired by my personal experiences in Middle School. Throughout seventh and eighth grade I was tortured. I became scared to go to school, my grades started to drop, I was scared to answer the phone, and finding places to hide on campus became a daily routine.
Through this time I battled depression and got to the point where I tried to take my own life. I remember feeling worthless, ugly, stupid, and more than anything else, I felt like my world was over. I know first hand how much it hurts to be called names, to be threatened and to feel like you are all alone. Ever since my experience with this in middle school, I have known that I wanted to do something to help with this very important issue.
Being a film student at Pepperdine opened my eyes to the world of documentary film and the enormous good documentaries can do. Documentaries are the perfect balance between being involved in the creative process of making a film, and sending a message to help people. After luckily being able to work for Tom Shadyac on a documentary during my junior year at Pepperdine, I realized that documentary film is exactly the direction I wanted to go.
That summer I was able to travel to Mountain Film documentary film festival, and it was there that everything came together. After formulating the idea of making the documentary and creating a movement, I immediately saw the positive reaction and the need for something like this. I came home from the festival and sat down with Molly Stroud, a friend of mine from Pepperdine. We were both film majors at Pepperdine and had worked well together on other projects. She had her own experience with this issue during High School and was really excited to be a part of the film. We began to film in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. It was the stories we were capturing on film that inspired us to take this project even further and that was when we founded the non-profit, Kind Campaign.
In all your experiences of meeting youth around the country, what is one of your most memorable moments?
Lauren: Every second of this journey has been unique and memorable. However, the last interview we shot for the film during the first road-trip has remained a particularly moving moment for me. We were in Orange County, my hometown, interviewing Amanda Martin. I grew up with Amanda and witnessed the emotional abuse kids put her through for years. During the interview with her, she revealed to me the permanent emotional scars she has from those experiences. At one point during the interview she let me know she wished that just one single person would have looked at her during her school experience and let her know that they liked her and that she was okay just the way she was. She had never heard that from any of her classmates.
Rather, she heard hateful and piercing words on a day-to-day basis...words that stick with her to this day. During that interview I broke down and ended up apologizing to her because I realized that just because I wasn't the one saying those things to her, I sat there day after day and never stood up for her. Because of my silence, I was just as much a part of her negative experience as the kids bullying her. In that moment with Amanda, I wished so badly that I could go back in time and be the person to stand up for her. However, I will never have that chance.
Now, I am able to go into schools and let girls know that it's cool to stick up for people. Both Molly and I recognize that it isn't easy to stand up for others, but we are also able to let the girls know that within a short time of being out of Middle and High School we already wish we could turn back the clock and be the voice that let people know its not okay to be mean to people. It was such a great lesson and moment for me and added a whole new discussion to our future assemblies.
Molly: One of the most memorable moments was from the the first road trip when we were in Lake Charles, Louisiana. We met Sydney LeCronier, who is featured at the end of Finding Kind. Sydney is one of the most inspirational females that I have encountered on this journey. When it gets to her section of the film, people are clapping following the insightful statement made by the 5th grader. Although she has been constantly made fun of for her size, she realizes that the things that people are saying to her do not matter and she is perfect just the way that she is. Unfortunately, even though she is incredibly strong, the bullying intensified this year and she is currently being home schooled. But even though she's struggling, her mom says that her experience within Finding Kind was the boost that she needed and she knows that her experience will benefit others and will help them overcome their own experiences. There are so many incredible females with inspirational, amazing, and inspiring stories and I hold each one of them close to my heart, it's what keeps me going.
Do you see the change after your meet these young females and talk to them? If so, describe a moment that represents the impact your work has had.
Molly: Following every single assembly, Lauren and I look at each other and are just amazed by how much change is created and the response from the girls.
Typically there is a gathering of girls (or women depending on the speaking engagement) wanting to share their stories, ask advice, or find out how they can start a Kind Club within their school or town. One moment that stands out in my mind as a great example of how people are impacted by Kind Campaign is the aftermath following an assembly in Flint, Michigan. While we were on the second road trip during the Fall of 2010, we did an assembly for 300 girls in Flint, Michigan. The initial response was overwhelmingly positive, but what had the biggest impact on us was an email that we received from the assistant principal about two weeks after the assembly. He was writing to let us know about a situation that happened with some of the students. There was a boy that was constantly picked on by a group of boys, but one day things got really bad in between classes and a fight broke out. Later on that evening, the boy who was constantly being picked on received a phone call from two female students.
They were calling to let him know that they would support him and be his friends and to not worry about what the other boys in the class said to him. When the assistant principal asked the two female students why they called him, they replied saying that they were in the Kind Campaign assembly and they wanted that boy to know that he was not alone because they did not want him feeling that way and going home and killing himself. When we received this email, we were overwhelmed with emotion. This not only represents the impact that Kind Campaign has on females, but this shows how Kind Campaign's message reaches and impacts both males and females.
You just got done with another road trip- What were some highlights and what is the current state of young females across America?
Lauren: The Fall 2010 road trip was incredible. It was very different from the first trip because the focus was not filming the documentary, but rather screening the finished film and doing assemblies in schools across the nation. A cool element to this road trip was seeing our sororities, Delta Gamma and Kappa Kappa Gamma come together to hold screenings and unite the entire Greek system at a number of different Universities and venues across the country.
We were able to reconnect with people that we encountered on the first road trip and also met Kind Campaign supporters across the country that we only knew previously through our social media outlets. Out of our experience on the road, we see that females across American are longing for a change. Day in and day out, we hear story after story of girl's tragic experiences with other girl's in their schools or community. There is hope amidst these tragic stories though, and that is the desire to change these stories into positive experiences, forgiveness and mended friendships.
Why should people care about this cause?
Lauren: Girl and boys are killing themselves over these experiences. It shouldn't be considered normal to fear going to school, the workplace, or neighborhood functions; to be constantly worrying about what your "friends" are saying about you; or to wake up every morning wishing that you would be accepted by the people if your life. We need to realize that the things we say and do to others can have consequences, sometimes fatal. So often, we are faced with world scale problems that seem impossible to solve. What we fail to realize is that at the root of so many of our problems is a lack of human connection and respect for others. If we all learned to consistently practice kindness and compassion, a lot of these issues may have not come to fruition.
With the constant pressures girls face to look and act a certain way, competition and jealousy have gotten in the way of functional friendships. While males have been taught to compete in sports and to view each other as comrades, females have been taught to compete with each other, and view one another as threats. This is a concept we must unlearn quickly. It's common to hear girls complain about how unfair it is that boys can maintain a group of friends throughout a lifetime, but for girls, having ONE true friend makes you lucky. These facts are evidence of the lack of connection and respect that we are talking about. We are here to change that.
For it to be considered "normal" for girls to physically and emotionally abuse each other is a sad reality that we can only change as individuals. Although we have been victims, we are not excluded from the reason this is happening. None of us can say that we have never said or done something to wrong another female. It's important to recognize that we ALL need to change our habits. It is also important to realize that the girls who are lashing out and being "mean" have a story to tell too. The intent of Kind Campaign is not to point fingers, because that too contributes to the vicious cycle. But rather, to suggest putting ourselves in each other's shoes, and to make a change by spreading kindness, compassion, and understanding through our school program, documentary and viral movement.
People should care about Kind Campaign and it's mission because these are mothers, daughters, and sisters and future bosses, leaders, and teachers that have been greatly effected by this 'rite-of-passage'. Making this change is a lot easier than it seems. We are not talking about solving world hunger or global warming here and we aren't asking for everyone to become best friends...that's simply unrealistic. However, we are suggesting something very simple: to STOP the competition, STOP the cattiness, STOP the hate, and to BE KIND.
What's next for you and the Kind Campaign?
Molly: Kind Campaigns future is bright. There are many projects in the works for 2011. Right now we are putting a lot of time into the theatrical release of the documentary. We have teamed up with IndieFlix to bring Finding Kind into theaters across the country on Thursday May 8th, right before Mothers Day weekend. Seeing this film is a perfect way for mothers and daughters to bond and start a really important conversation. We have high hopes for this theatrical release. We are also bringing the film onto the 2011 festival circuit. Our festival premiere will take place the first week of February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. We are so excited and honored to be a part of this prestigious festival and we can't wait to hear back from the other festivals we submitted to! Following our second road trip our inbox held thousands of emails from schools across the country, asking us to bring the Kind Campaign school assembly to their female students.
We sat down and thought about ways to spread Kind Campaign without having to spend every second of our lives on the road. It's obviously impossible for us to hit every school in the country so we decided to create a virtual curriculum for this next school year. Our Kind Campaign anti-bullying curriculum package will include the virtual assembly, student workbooks, professor workbooks, a copy of our documentary and the Kind Club curriculum. We dont want the conversation to end after our hour long assembly so we are creating a program for schools to they can implement a Kind Campaign Club into their school agenda. We are really excited about 2011! It's going to be a KIND year :)
What's your favorite motto or quote you live by:
Lauren: "You are the only you that will ever walk the face of this earth...BE KIND." - Me (Lauren Parsekian). This is a thought I try to live by every single day... I am original, I am unique, I am the only me that will ever live...what then, will I choose to do with each day, each conversation I have and each person I meet? I choose to BE KIND.