Standing for the Silent: MVP attends presentation on suicide prevention

With tears staining Kirk Smalley’s cheeks, the construction worker from Perkins, Okla., began to tell 300 plus students and faculty his long and heart wrenching story of how his son, Ty Keith Smalley, had committed suicide due to bullying.

On Wednesday, Dec., 6, in Tama Hall of Hawkeye Community College, Smalley shared a compelling presentation of his life story.

Ty Smalley was 11 years old when he finally stood up for himself and retaliated against the bully who had been picking on him for more than two years. Yet, he was the one who got in trouble.  He was sent home for a few days as punishment but never returned back to school.

His mother, Laura Smalley, ordered him to do his homework, do his chores and that they would talk about this as a family later on that night.

Ty never did his homework. He never finished his chores.

On May 13, 2010, at 2:38 p.m., the unimaginable, unthinkable and horrifying news struck that family. Laura found Ty in his room, lying down after shooting himself.

When returning to work at the school where Ty went, his mother overheard even more heart aching news.

Not all kids and teachers were praying for the family, or writing caring thoughts down in letters. No, some children were making fun of the fact that their classmate had committed suicide. Even with his death, the bullying didn’t stop.

Since that day, Kirk and Laura Smalley have pledged and promised to their son that they will not let another kid or family go through this ever again.

“I love him, and I miss him so much,” Smalley said.

Stand For The Silent was created by a group of 68 kids out of Oklahoma State University in order to create awareness and prevention for kids who are in similar situations such as Ty’s.

The kids were saddened by the Smalley’s loss and had created a group and Facebook page in his honor. Now it’s a global movement.

People from every city in the United States have heard of Stand For The Silent and the Smalley’s story. From Lady Gaga to Barack and Michelle Obama, Justin Bieber and a famous WWE wrestler known as The Big Show, the Smalley’s have imprinted their story and message with many important people and organizations.

Families across the world such as Australia, Germany and India, have all heard Kirk speak and have all pledged with Stand For The Silent in order to end bullying and the result of suicide.  Will you?

Locally, Michelle Clements Lane, president of Cedar Valley Stand For The Silent, formed a chapter for the movement a couple years ago when Amanda Goodman called out to the community about the bullying epidemic within the Cedar Valley.

“The very first meeting, we put everything together. I’ve been president now for four years, and it’s grown to be quite big and known,” she said.

Lane had experienced a big bullying situation pertaining to her son, who is disabled, and their administration. After a video surfaced of her son, he was pulled out of school and her daughter as well.

Lane said when her daughter returned, she was in the same position as Ty’s situation, and she too was hearing jokes and unjustified comments of those who had hurt her brother.

She said she wanted to join Cedar Valley Stand For The Silent to be able to make a difference.

“The two things I want everyone to take away from this are that you are somebody, you mean something and matter,” Lane said. “Second, don’t let this keep happening. Speak up and stop it.”

Smalley spoke about several hot topics surrounding his son’s death, including other families’ struggles and memories, what he has learned since traveling around the world and what he wishes for every single person to take home and to their school: “I am somebody.”

Not only did Smalley come prepared with his own story along with credentials of thousands and thousands of schools behind the Stand For The Silent message, he shared the tragic statistics clinging to this event as well.

According to him, one in every four kids will think or plan their suicide before graduating high school.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for the ages of 10-24 years old.

He said these include future generations, neighbors, brothers and sisters, loved ones, kids in the hallways and best friends since kindergarten pained by bullying, depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses and so many other different situations. He said they aren’t a number, these are people.

Smalley said he travels to so many places because he doesn’t want another family, another father and mother to lose their baby like they had encountered eight years ago.

“I will do whatever I have to do so another kid won’t do what my son did,” Smalley said.

Seniors Will Burken and Makenna Carroll traveled with MVP, a leadership group at the high school, to hear Smalley speak.

“It was very sobering, what with all the numbers and statistics he told us about suicide and bullying. It really things into perspective for me,” Burken said.

Carroll agreed, saying that we need more people in the world like him to make positive changes and advocate for love, not hate.

“He’s a man affected by something horrible. He’s not famous or rich or specifically talented for public speaking. He’s just a guy with a passion for change, and students can do a lot more than we think we can. Be the change,” she said.

Between the videos, special talks and handing out bracelets to students glued to his voice, Smalley mentioned something personal that also resonated in the hour presentation.

He said when he was growing up, his mother always told him, “There are three kinds of people in this world. Those who wish for things to be done, those who sit around and wonder if things will get done and then there are those who make things get done.”

Smalley and his wife’s life is forever changed by the fact that suicide is a real issue in society. He explained that kids, teenagers, middle aged adults and seniors are taking their own lives. Many deaths involving the younger generations. “Suicide is a stigma,” Smalley said. “It’s a taboo subject. It’s time to start talking about it because that’s how we make the change. It’s time for open, honest conversations. One kid’s life taken, is one too many.”

A lot of controversy surfaced over the last few weeks before Kirk Smalley arrived in town to speak on behalf of the community’s loss and request. Many schools were committed to bring in Smalley again and have him preach what he knows best from his own terrible experiences that no one should ever have to face, but after a Facebook meme about drinking during the holiday’s from a few years ago on Smalley’s personal Facebook page resurfaced, it was thrown on the table by some local schools as an excuse not to participate in Smalley’s event. When committed school’s got word of these rumors and allegations through the grapevine, they immediately pulled out.

“I’m gonna be honest with ya, I’m a social drinker, I do not drink all the time. We don’t celebrate holiday’s anymore because it’s too hard without Ty. We don’t wanna be the downers. We just spend it with each other, my wife and I,” he said.

Smalley said he had never claimed to be anything more than he is, a construction worker and a father grieving loss trying to spread a message that everyone should to hear.

“If schools don’t want me to come speak because a stupid meme was posted, I understand that, but have I ever claimed to be a role model? No. I am a broken-hearted daddy, and that will give literally anything and everything to keep this from happening to another baby,” Smalley said.

He expressed how honored and grateful he is to be back in the Cedar Valley but that more than anything, everyone needs to start taking some action; be proactive instead of reactive.

“I get invited here after a child has taken their own life. Why do we have to wait until somebody has to die when we can do something before it happens. When I leave this time, is it gonna take another young life before they think about bringing us back and taking us to the schools?” he asked.

Smalley said that a lot of the students that came to his presentation, also came to thank him afterward and are sporting the blue Stand For The Silent bracelets, go back to their schools and make some changes in the hallways.

Traveling 340 days out of 365 days a year, only spending 25 at home, Smalley has put in a lot of time and effort as well as the many organizations around the Cedar Valley that promote prevention and awareness of suicide no matter the situation.

“Hurt people, hurt people,” Smalley said. He said he wants everyone to be the one. Be the difference. Be the change. According to Smalley, friends, students, teachers, counselors and administrators can’t be silent; their stories aren’t over yet.

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