In conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month, the towns of Wakefield and Westerly sent the message loud and clear that bullying is not to be ignored in their towns. On Saturday, October 18th, over 350 (189 in Wakefield and 173 in Westerly to be exact) children (ages 5 and up) and adults of all ages took to the sidewalks of both towns to create anti-bullying messages in chalk. This community arts event, the brainchild of Eva Gallant, co-owner of Pier Pizza Company, sparked important community conversations about the problem of bullying.
For generations, people have felt powerless in combating bullying. Sadly, the internet has exacerbated the age-old problem. Children now have no safe havens from bullying. They can be bullied anytime, anywhere via the electronic devices they carry in their pockets. In fact, three of every five of the state’s middle school students report they experienced at least one form of bullying last year. For too long, when children have gone for help, adults have simply shrugged their shoulders. They haven’t known what to say or do. Often the best advice offered to kids is: ignore it and the bullying will stop. But it doesn’t. Ignoring bullying only emboldens perpetrators who realize their targets (victims) can do nothing to stop them.
With the sidewalks of downtown Wakefield and Westerly decorated with anti-bullying messages, the message to stand up against bullying was sent loud and clear by participants. A spirit of community was fostered, amazing art was created, and fun was had by all.
There are many people to thank. Chalk It Up Against Bullying would not have happened without the support of both Town Councils and the Wakefield Village Association and Westerly-Pawcatuck Downtown Business Association. Community merchants donated everything from money and products to space in front of their shops: BankRI, Brickley’s Ice Cream, EZ Waste, Malted Barley, Mel’s Downtown Creamery, Pier Pizza Company, Ray Willis Toys & Bikes, South County Art Supply, the 401 Studio, and WBLQ. The Washington Trust Company sent volunteers to help with set up and distribution of hot chocolate in Westerly. Social service agencies and other nonprofits, schools and other government agencies played a key role in getting the word out to their constituencies, assuring safety, and providing information, including: South County YMCA, South Kingstown Partnership for Prevention, South Kingstown School Department, VNS Home Health Services, Westerly Library/Wilcox Park, Westerly Police Department, and Westerly Public Schools/Westerly Parent Academy. Boatcake, Westminster Youth Ensemble, and WBLQ provided live music and broadcasting. The event was funded in part by a legislative grant from Rep. Donna Walsh.
The community spirit and excitement was palpable in both communities as kids of all ages, URI students, parents, local artists, school administrators, youth organizations, business owners, and elected officials mingled and had fun creating art together. The event sparks hope that, as two young artists put it, we can one day “make bullying a myth.”