An extraordinary documentary called "Bully" captured a behavior adults hear about, but rarely see: the way some kids pressure and relentlessly harass their peers. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch was embedded in several schools for an entire year. What he filmed was so raw and eye-opening that the project catapulted a movement, sounding the alarm about the critical and dangerous issue of bullying.
Something profound has also happened as a result. In the time since "Bully" was released, a number of kids and parents profiled in the documentary, and the filmmaker himself, have been on life-changing journeys, and in some instances have experienced remarkable transformations.
AC360° has dedicated the past year to tracing the course of their journeys and personal missions. In partnership with Cartoon Network, we want to share their stories with you in a powerful documentary called "The Bully Effect," premiering on CNN on February 28 at 10 p.m. ET.
When Alex Libby was a 12 year old in Sioux City, Iowa, the slurs, curses and threats would begin even before he boarded the school bus. It escalated to such a frightening degree that Hirsch put down his camera and got involved in his subject's life. He warned Alex's parents and school administrators that he feared for the student's safety.
Today Alex has become an anti-bullying rock star with appearances on national television and a visit to the White House. He also regularly delivers speeches to capacity crowds as an activist, and considers himself a spokesman for the bullied. We'll show you how he overcame the junior high torment to find happiness in high school.
Kelby Johnson came out as a lesbian in middle school and in the years since she and her family have been treated like pariahs in their small town in Oklahoma. Kelby admits to once being a cutter and speaks matter-of-factly about attempting suicide on three separate occasions. Even after she was hit purposely by a van of high school boys while walking back from lunch, she believes it's her destiny to remain in her small conservative town and change a few minds.
Now 19, Kelby says her participation in "Bully" empowered her to raise awareness about bullying targeted toward the most at risk population for suicide – LGBT youth. "I know that being gay, you can feel very alone," she says, "and I hope that when they watch the movie, that goes away and they realize there is someone standing with them who has gone through that." You'll get to hear about Kelby's struggles, the people who abandoned her family, and those who stood by her.
Kirk Smalley's story is both inspirational and heartbreaking. The film introduced him burying his 11-year-old son TY after he committed suicide because he was bullied. Kirk says, "I will fight bullying forever because my son will be 11 forever." You'll see his family turn unbearable pain into motivation to enlist the entire world in the fight against bullying.
Hirsch's mission has continued since his film's release - his goal is for 1 million students to see "Bully" through their schools. He has helped create an anti-bullying curriculum, in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, to be coupled with the film so that students, teachers and administrators can watch together and get everyone involved to stop bullying. "The Bully Effect" tracks his progress trying to reach 1 million students while also traveling back to his own middle school where he opens up about his personal history with bullying.
Anderson Cooper and the producers at AC360° have been reporting for years on the long-lasting damage suffered by victims of bullying. We now want to focus on the change happening in light of "Bully" and campaigns to end intimidation and harassment. "The Bully Effect" reveals how individuals are making a difference in their communities and all over the country. Learn about their stories on February 28 at 10 p.m. ET and share your own on Facebook.com/AC360 or by using#bullyeffect on Twitter.