From Victims to Victors: Bully Documentary Creates Inspiration

From Victims to Victors: Bully Documentary Creates Inspiration

‘Bully’ director Lee Hirsch was bullied as a kid in Long Island, New York.  He spoke of how he would get punched in the arm everyday when walking home; making his arm not colored with black and blue bruises, but a permanent yellow sleeve from the routine beatings.  He couldn’t even talk to his dad because his dad told him to just man-up. He felt alone.

Amazingly, he made his experience an experience of reason and consequently, he made the documentary Bully and created The Bully Project to inspire people into taking action against bullying.

Three years later, CNN’s Anderson Cooper follows up with Alex Libby, Kelby Johnson, and Kirk Smalley who were featured subjects in the Bully documentary.


Alex Libby

Alex is a remembered face from the documentary.  Disbelief, sadness, and rage were imprinted on viewers’ emotions when they saw the disturbing torment Alex received on the school bus.  They called him “fish-face”, threatened to break his bones, and even with cameras rolling, they punched him and slammed his face into the bus seat.

During filming, Hirsch spoke about Alex’s first day of school.  He was alone and looked very sad, but the world seemed not to care and kept moving through him.  He was void of emotion, and depression was the only thing that exuded from his frown that seemed to be put on default.  His parents described him as “fading” and there seemed to be nothing they could do to bring him back.

Filmmakers showed Alex’s parents video from the bus and they were shocked beyond belief.  This encouraged them to go to school administration and address the problem.  However, Assistant Principal Kim Lockwood simply said, “We’ll take care of it.”  However, little came from that, and the Libby’s ultimately moved their seven-member family from Iowa to Oklahoma.

With the move and national release of the documentary, Alex has transformed into a loved, well-respected, and popular guy.  He is also a motivational speaker against bullying and has even received various awards for his contributions against bullying. Hip-hop artist, Sean Kingston presented a youth award to Alex and later acted as his hype-man as he free-styled about bullying to the crowd.

Kelby Johnson

Kelby Johnson was also featured on Bully.  Three years ago, when she came out as a lesbian (and later as transgender), it seemed everyone was against her.

Close friends and the church excluded both she and her parents, her sports’ teammates shunned her, no one wanted to sit by her in class, and even the teachers made crude jokes.

She spoke of one instance when her teacher took role separating her from both the boys and girls list of names.  Another teacher even spoke about how her hometown “would burn fags,” and the rest of the class laughed, but no one stopped even though they knew it was hurting her.

Due to frustration, her dad suggested that they move to a bigger town, but from the very first day she said, “No, because then that means they win.”

However, that didn’t lessen the bullying.  The bullying became so severe that her life was in jeopardy at the actions of others.

On one occasion, a van full of boys drove around harassing Kelby and her friend as they were walking.  They would poke them with sticks and call them names.  The sixth time they drove around, Kelby walked into the street to ask them to stop.  However, instead of the truck slowing down, he sped up and ran her over.  She suffered a contusion in the head, forearm, hand, and knee.  The kid driving the van simply said, “She didn’t move, and I didn’t slow down.”

When she could no longer handle what was being tolerated at the school, she was pulled out of school during her junior year and finished up with a GED.

Kelby matched the statistics from GLSEN, which reports that two thirds of LGBT students report feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Even though she was disappointed in not walking across the stage for high school graduation, she has no regrets about coming out.  She now travels extensively to continue promoting the documentary and raising awareness about suicide and bullying risk among LGBT teens.  She also interned at GLSEN in 2012.

Kirk Smalley

Also on the documentary was Kirk Smalley.  He was the father of Ty, an 11-year-old boy who committed suicide after being suspended for retaliating against a bully of two years.  Kirk believes that everything happens for a reason and he made this unfortunate experience an experience of reason.

“When a child dies, he goes straight to heaven, but what about those left behind,” said Kirk.  He was speaking in regards to his new purpose in life of tackling bullying worldwide.  “I know for a fact that there is a reason that we were put on this path no matter whether we want to be here or not… we’re not doing it for Ty, but all the other kids out there.”

Kirk partnered with students from Oklahoma State University in creating Stand for the Silent.  Through this program, Kirk goes to different schools and conferences to share his son’s story, offer education and awareness, and giving words of love to prevent their tragedy from happening to another child and his or her family again.

Kirk places empty chairs with blown up images of kids who committed suicide due to bullying.  This illustrates his message to a tee, but he addresses bystanders’ responsibility in not allowing this to happen again as well.

Social Development Journal shows that bystanders witness 85% of bullying incidents, but only 10% ever intervene.

“Be real, your schools can’t stop bullying… but only you can!” Kirk says.  He often tells kids ‘I thought about doing it {intervening}’ should never be an answer or excuse in doing nothing when someone is getting bullied.

He advocates that the bigger and older kids need to look out for the smaller kids too.

And throughout his presentation, he repeatedly tells each kid, whether they are being bullied or the one doing the bullying, that he loves them.

He gets various emails, and one email was from a bully who admitted their ways, but found a change of heart after listening to him.

Kirk and his wife Laura have been invited to many conferences regarding bullying, including meeting President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at their first-ever White House Convention on bullying prevention and Lady Gaga during the spring launch of her Born This Way Foundation.

Kirk has made over 590 presentations in 23 states and has encouraged 635,000 kids to pledge toward standing for the silent.

Fortunately, the world has Lee Hirsch to thank in showcasing bullying as a real and long-ignored problem that needs addressing from not only school administration but the nation and its bystanders as well.  If bystanders intervened and school administration handled bullying situations better, bullying would not have escalated as far as it has, especially in stories like those featured in ‘Bully’.

He has started a  national movement and believes that if we all do something, we can change the world.


To support Lee Hirsch in defacing the world from bullying, visit 1 Million Kid Movement.


Bully Movie Trailer


Photo courtesy of Paul Lowry

This Article Was Written By

Gianina Thompson

Gianina is the editor-in-chief and senior writer at Bonfire Impact. She hopes to inspire people that challenges in life are merely setUPs for a creative twist in a very inspiring story! She currently works at Hampton University managing their publicity and marketing. She has worked with executives and reporters from ESPN, Disney, The New York Times, CBS, different professional sports teams, and many others. She graduated Old Dominion University with both a master's and bachelor's degree all before turning 22 years old. As well as being a passionate writer, she finds enjoyment watching movies, salsa dancing, and running. Gianina encourages readers to always dream big and never to let circumstances keep them from trying again and again... that next "again" just may be worth it!

Leave a Comment