Waking Up Courage: How To Wake Up the Courage of Young People to Stop Bullying

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Harvey Weinstein’s recently released documentary, “Bully," intends to be a catalyst for change. The film follows five kids and families over the course of a year and examines the dire consequences of bullying through the testimony of strong and courageous youth. However, what it doesn’t do is provide answers to the bullying virus that is infecting far too many children. Fortunately, there are organizations, like Community Matters, that have developed solutions that make a difference.

By waking up courage, we can all help end bullying. Photo courtesy of The Bully Movie - @BullyMovie on Twitter.

“Student bystanders see, hear, and know what adults don’t,” says Rick Phillips, Executive Director of Community Matters

Today in our schools:

(source: Weinstein Company)

  • 900,000 students are cyber-bullied every year

(source: U.S. Dept. of Education, August 11, 2010)

  • 160,000 students stay home from school every day because they are afraid

(source: National Association of Secondary School Principals)

  • Bullied children are 6 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts

(source: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2012)

What can be done?

We can’t legislate this problem away. We can’t punish our children into being compassionate. The best solution is to wake up the courage of bystanders to speak up when they see or hear bullying in all its forms.


Because “Student bystanders see, hear, and know what adults don’t,” says Rick Phillips, Executive Director of Community Matters. “Students can intervene to help stop bullying in ways adults can’t, but usually they don’t. They often fear retaliation, or simply don’t know what to say or do.”  

In 1996 Phillips founded Community Matters, a California-based nonprofit whose mission is to help end bullying. In 2000, Community Matters developed the Safe School Ambassadors program (SSA) to wake up the courage of student bystanders. The program enrolls socially influential “opinion leaders” from the diverse cliques and groups at school. These "alpha" students are trained in non-violent intervention and communication skills, allowing them to safely and effectively prevent and stop bullying.

The SSA program has been effectively implemented in over 900 schools across the country, training more than 60,000 students who every day are preventing, de-escalating, and stopping incidents of bullying and violence.  A recent program evaluation conducted by, Texas State University, San Marcos and University of Georgia, Athens, showed that the SSA program reduced suspensions by 33%. This contrasts with control schools, where suspensions increased by 10% during the same time period.

Bullying stopped in its tracks, as told by Safe School Ambassadors:

“A guy at school had been saying really obscene things to girls.” Ambassador action: “I asked him how he would feel if someone said that to his mother or sister.” - Santaluces High School, FL

“My classmate was going to get into a fight.” Ambassador action: “I asked him if it was really worth a suspension, and he stopped.” - Eagles Landing Middle School, FL

“Someone was harassing my friend and my friend was doing his best to ignore that person but losing his patience.” Ambassador action: “I told my friend that it wasn’t worth fighting with the person because in the end nothing would be settled.” - Santaluces High School, FL

“A friend told me he had tried to commit suicide. He told me online, he said he might try again and then he got off the internet.” Ambassador action: “I called him and talked with him for an hour or so showing support and helping him. He got professional help.” - Atlantic High School, FL

“We heard that someone might bring something to school to hurt somebody.” Ambassador action: “We told the guidance counselor.” - Polo Park Middle School, FL

Phillips concludes, “I applaud the film-makers for creating this powerful film and drawing attention to the bullying epidemic. It’s equally important to shine a light on the solutions that we know work. We need to wake up our own courage. Let’s believe and invest in our young people. They are our best hope to help end bullying.”

Community Matters is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works with hundreds of schools, school districts and other youth-serving organizations to engage, empower and equip young people with the knowledge, tools and support to be effective contributors to their schools and communities.  

Contact info:
Rick Phillips (Executive Director), Erica Vogel (Media)
Community Matters
P.O. Box 14816
Santa Rosa, CA 95402
Phone: (707) 823-6159
Fax:  (707) 823-3373
@WakingUpCourage on Twitter
Email:  team(at)community-matters(dot)org (general info); media(at)community-matters(dot)org (media requests); outreach(at)community-matters(dot)org (schools interested in CM’s programs)

Rick Phillips, Founder of Community Matters, is a nationally-recognized educator, speaker, and author with deep expertise on violence prevention and youth empowerment Featured on "The Today Show" and CNN, Rick frequently speaks to schools and organizations focused on creating more peaceful schools and communities.

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Rick Phillips (Executive Director), Erica Vogel (Media)
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