All across the country, students are taking a stand against bullying by putting empathy into practice. What does that mean exactly? Empathy starts with putting yourself into another’s shoes, and working to understand a situation from someone else’s perspective.
But it’s way bigger than that: it’s about standing up rather than standing by. It’s about embracing differences, and learning to work and play alongside people who are different from you. And it’s a skill we can all get better at with a little practice!
What is your idea to help people practice empathy? Here you’ll find a bunch of resources to help you dream big, and put your idea into action.
Need some inspiration? Scroll down the page to take a look at stories of other awesome changemakers just like you, who’ve decided to make a difference, and click on the “Get Started” tab on the top of the page to share your idea.
Remember: you can put an end to bullying before it starts, by turning would-be bullies and victims into changemakers, and mobilizing them to join your cause.
Change starts with empathy, and it begins with you.
We’re here to make your idea a reality. We have a team of expert changemakers and mentors on standby to share advice, answer questions, and connect you to other awesome problem-solvers out to build the movement to stop bullying and start empathy.
In addition to having a hand in changing the world, you'll also have the chance to have your story featured here and throughout our network. Select contributors will even win an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to share their solution with fellow changemakers at this summer’s Youth Venture Summit.
So what are you waiting for? Click here to share your idea.
Ashoka and Youth Venture have partnered with the Bully Project to show how young people can help put an end to bullying by advancing empathy.
Youth Venture is an international network of powerful young leaders. Our network aims to help an entire generation of young people develop as changemakers who will improve their communities and their own realities now and throughout their lives. We support youth teams to be changemakers by launching and leading their own civic-minded organizations and businesses, and we help communities realize their potential as communities of changemakers.
Ashoka — a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs – has launched a new initiative called Start Empathy. Start Empathy is a community of individuals and institutions dedicated to cultivating empathy in the 21st Century. Our premise is that empathy is a critical skill both for individual human development and for our collective ability to solve problems and build a stronger society. Stay tuned for the upcoming launch of Start Empathy on the web, where we’ll spark a conversation about why empathy matters and how we can cultivate it together, starting in our schools today!
- Express Yourself Project
Lucy Kamau and Cinthia Corniel were high school juniors at Lawrence High in Lawrence, MA, when they got the idea to host a fashion show to raise money for a local arts center. But not just any fashion show: they wanted to offer students the chance to freely express themselves, and to show off models of all shapes, sizes, colors, and attitudes.
Lawrence has one of the highest rates of obesity in MA. Nearly three-quarters of all students live below the poverty line, and the city has witnessed a spate of violent activity over the years. But Lucy and Cinthia knew that their fellow students were a talented bunch, and they wanted to give them the chance to celebrate.
Their idea gave birth to the Express Yourself Project, an annual fashion show to support the Essex Arts Center, a local nonprofit out to boost the creative potential and self-worth of kids in the community through art.
The project has focused as much on building confident leaders and enhancing students' self-esteem as it has on raising money. The team began with a $1,000 grant from Youth Venture, and have since become expert communicators and fundraisers, writing letters to family, friends, and local businesses, and ensuring the entire school and community know that the fashion show is theirs to own.
In its first year, auditions brought out more than 80 people over the course of three days, including students from local middle schools and rival high schools. The fashion show, held later that spring, raised $2,000 for the Center, and has since become a staple in the community.
Fortunately for Lawrence, it seems the show is here to stay.
- What’s Good in the Hood
Gladys Gitau was tired of turning on the TV or opening the local newspaper and seeing the same cycle of negative stories: shootings, violence, corruption, hopelessness. Lawrence, MA was her hometown, and she didn’t want to live in the negative world that everyone else perceived. She knew that Lawrence was also full of good people -- and good stories worth telling. So with a friend she founded What’s Good in the Hood, a youth-run publication that’s trying to reverse the negative stereotypes and create a new perception.
Along with their tumblr blog, local teens release monthly publications that contain stories of positive things happening in their community -- everything from community garden projects to fashion show fundraisers for local art projects. Whether they're adult-led or youth-led, What's Good in the Hood will bring them the exposure they need to gain traction.
“We want to not only say what the good is that’s happening in Lawrence, we want to be the good that’s happening in Lawrence,” says Gladys. The publication does more than share positive stories. It gives local students the opportunity to become engaged in something that elevates the entire community. And it highlights the power of young changemakers working together. “We’re starting a revolution where the ‘small people’ can change the system,” says Editor Aquedo de los Santos. “Nobody thought that we could make it, but it’s been six issues now and we’re still going.”
What’s Good in the Hood reveals how much your own reality can be shaped by your perception and the perception of others. But according to Gladys, it also proves that you can change that reality: “I want kids to know that they don’t have to sit here and say that this is a horrible place. They can change their own perception if they want.”
- Reach Out
Shandra Benito is the 19-year-old founder of Reach Out, a summer camp program for low-income, underserved youth, offering mentorship, peer support, and games and activities to build their self-confidence and forge lasting relationships.
In her earliest years, Shandra was like every other happy and healthy baby. But when she reached two and a half and still had only one made-up word in her vocabulary, her parents began to worry. They took her to a specialist, who discovered she had a "mild to moderately severe" hearing disability. From that point forward, she entered a new normal: her first language was sign language and her parents enrolled her in an all-deaf preschool, with the result that all of her friends were likewise hard of hearing.
It was only as she entered a public kindergarten that she discovered she was different. Sitting on the rainbow-colored carpet tiles on her first day, she looked around to find that no one else wore hearing aids; no one else had an interpreter; and no one else signed. And so, just like that, her disability became something to hide. She would wave off her parents anytime they signed in public, she hated the word "deaf," and spent recess befriending the librarian.
But at the age of 10, all of that changed. Michael, the 18-year-old son of a family friend, came by the house, and the two ended up talking on the couch all day long. Shandra shared her fears about entering middle school, her embarrassment over her hearing aids, and the feelings of isolation that had been with her since that first day of kindergarten. Having a cool 18-year-old tell her that she should be proud of who she was and that she had nothing to fear was all it took. And so, upon entering the sixth grade—a time in which many kids falter, and begin a years-long journey toward dropping out—Shandra bloomed.
No longer afraid of being different, she carefully explained why she read lips and what it meant to be hard of hearing, and found that her peers were no less likely to talk to her. Her hearing aids, and the radio device she carried, became a makeshift walkie-talkie she and her friends used to communicate in class. But she found her disability had given her something, too: she would instinctively sit next to the kid alone at the cafeteria table, because she knew what that feeling was like.
Now a sophomore at Seattle University, she wants to provide other kids with the same sort of mentorship, encouragement, and willingness to listen that made such a profound difference in her own life. Her summer camps are now in their third year, and going strong.
Every child knows what it is to feel alone, and similarly what it is to make someone feel alone: the key, then, is giving students the confidence and self-determination to practice empathy with others.
- Anti-Bullying Campaign (A.B.C.)
Kasey Saeschao and Jack Lach know all too well what it means to be bullied: both have painful memories dating back to elementary school, and for years, lost the confidence and motivation they needed to succeed. But this past Fall, the two students at Evergreen Senior High in Seattle decided to take matters into their own hands with the launch of the Anti-Bullying Campaign (ABC). They're now out to help students stand up for themselves and one another, through a combination of awareness-raising and peer support.
The two understood that insecurity isn’t merely the product of bullying, but also usually its cause. Bullies often feel a need to exert a sense of superiority over their peers because of a sense of low self-confidence. The group is working to put an end to stereotypes, misunderstanding, and indifference, by bringing together both the bullies and the bullied. Through dialogue, they aim to have both sides get to know each other better, and resolve their differences.
The group is also engaging in extensive fundraising and building a new kind of identity for students at the school. Jack, a master artist, designed three posters to help spread the word and spark a dialogue on campus. They are now selling both t-shirts and wristbands featuring inspirational quotes, as a mark of solidarity, and will use the funds to support a local nonprofit.
- The Book Club
Don’t let the name fool you: The Book Club is anything but your average book club. For one, its participants don’t read books—they’re writing one of their own.
The students behind this project, which comes out of the John O’Bryant School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, are collecting the stories of new Americans. Their vision is a book that paints a picture in first-person of America through the eyes of immigrants. Teacher and student contributors will tell vivid non-fiction accounts of coming to the United States, helping readers step into the shoes not only of the stories’ writers but also of the many U.S. residents who have similar stories.
The Book Club will compile the best submissions into a single volume. They’ll sell the final product, but not to make a profit. Proceeds from sales of The Book Club’s final oeuvre will go towards books and other needed supplies for sister schools in Nicaragua.
The group’s founders don’t hesitate to dream big. Their wish for the The Book Club? “Hopefully the project [will be] big enough that Nicaragua won’t be the only place we’ll be supporting.”