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Singer urges fans to stop bullying

By Stephanie Steinberg, Special to CNN
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Thu September 1, 2011
Singer Cody Simpson urges his fans to help stop bullying and name-calling of their peers.
Singer Cody Simpson urges his fans to help stop bullying and name-calling of their peers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Singer Cody Simpson is urging teen fans to stand up to stop bullying
  • He gave a free concert to kick off Defeat the Label campaign
  • Ken Kragen wants students across the U.S. to stand up on May 4, 2012

TROY, Michigan (CNN) -- Thousands of screaming teenage girls waving "We love Cody Simpson" posters didn't pack a mall outside Detroit just to hear the Australian-born teen singer perform over the weekend. They also were there to support the recently launched anti-bullying campaign called Defeat the Label.

Celebrities Miley Cyrus and Paula Abdul also are supporting the initiative, which is encouraging kids to speak out against bullying and put a stop to name calling, hateful Facebook and Twitter posts and actions that hurt feelings, incite depression and possibly drive some kids to end their lives.

About 3,000 teens, children, parents and shoppers filled three floors of Somerset Mall for the free concert. Fans received florescent cards stamped with the words "dork," "weird," "odd" and "nerd" and tore them up when Simpson instructed everyone to destroy the stereotypes.

Simpson, a 14-year-old often referred to as the next Justin Bieber, has become the face of Defeat the Label. With his 1.2 million Twitter followers and teen fan base, he said he believes he can help create a movement that shows bullying isn't cool.

Cody Simpson\'s fans support his anti-bulling campaign.
Cody Simpson's fans support his anti-bulling campaign.

"If enough people really stand up to it, I feel like it's something that can really be defeated," he said.

One in five high school students have been bullied, according to the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And with many teens and kids using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, cyberbullying is pervasive among youth.

Entertainment manager, speaker and philanthropist Ken Kragen made a special appearance at the concert to announce Defeat the Label's plan to have every student in the country stand up against bullying on May 4, 2012, at 12 p.m. ET.

Kragen orchestrated the 1986 Hands Across America event, when 6.5 million people held hands from New York to California in one line to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty. A year earlier, he had helped organize the recording of the song "We are the World," written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and sung by the top recording artists at the time, to raise money for African famine relief.

"My philosophy is it's easier to accomplish the impossible than it is the ordinary," Kragen said.

Kragen has turned his focus to bullying because he sees it as a growing epidemic that is affecting people everywhere.

"The attention in this country is on bullying," he said. "Since I got involved in this, every time I turn on the television or I look at what movies are being made, constantly people are addressing these issues of bullying."

In the coming months, Kragen plans to get more celebrities to support the day against bulling and possibly coordinate a song similar to "We are the World."

It's hard to get bullies to stop, but you can create an attitude that says, "Bullying just isn't the thing to do," Kragen said.

"If somebody is being pushed off to the side and having to eat alone and people go and sit with them and say, 'I'm your friend. Forget what they say,' you change the whole dynamic," he said.

Defeat the Label spokeswoman Lila Lazarus said, "Our goal is to end bullying — to get people to wake up and stand up against the bully, not just in Detroit, not just in Michigan, but across the nation."

While some anti-bullying programs target the bully or victim, this one is aimed at the bystander. As Lazarus explained, bystanders — whether they're students, parents or teachers — don't necessarily know how to respond.

"We want the bystander to say 'no,' to stand up against the bully just as much as we want the victim to stand up against the bully," Lazarus said.

But not everyone agrees with that strategy.

A 2010 Youth Voice Research study of 11,893 students in grades five through 12 found that victims don't want their peers to call out a bully. Instead, they want their peers to talk with them, sit with them at lunch and walk to class with them. Davis, who co-wrote the report, said it's these small day-to-day actions that are needed to reduce bullying.

"Getting to know somebody who you think is a dork is way better than saying, 'I think dorks should be treated fine,' " he said.

The survey also found that students who tried to solve a bullying problem themselves didn't improve the situation. For example, 16% said telling the bully his/her feelings made the problem better. But 34% of students reported that the issue improved after seeking help from an adult.

Defeatthelabel.com offers kids a weekly anti-bullying task such as sharing what they would do to defeat a stereotype or apologizing to someone they have hurt in the past.

Jessica Jarrell, a rising singer who also performed at the Detroit show, said she supports Defeat the Label because she was bullied in middle school and mean things were said to her. Today, many of her fans send her messages about how they are being bullied.

"I can't believe that people can be so cruel to other people ... by being a part of this, I hope I can change people's opinions in school and other places," she said.

Katie Long, 16, from Traverse City, Michigan, drove 4.5 hours to show her support for the cause. She said the campaign is needed to help stop bullying, which is "getting out of hand."

"At our school, it was crazy," she said. "There were so many kids who were getting bullied, and it wasn't OK."

While the campaign is just stirring up support and getting under way, Simpson said the ultimate goal is quite simple: "No more bullying."

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