In 1996 we began as two performing artists with a passion to use the arts to impact youth culture. We led summer outreach programs and had the opportunity to work with youth from around the world. It was exciting. It was effective. A path we felt great about. What happened next caught us by surprise.
One seemingly ordinary day in the fall of 2000, we found ourselves in a room filled with youth advocates. Having worked with youth since graduating high school, we had attended countless networking meetings. But today was different. Instead of the typical conversation, our group leader pressed play on a story that would change the course of our lives.
The story we listened to was not extraordinary. In fact, it was more ordinary than anyone would have admitted. Middle School. High School. Not an unusual topic. But, he was talking about a part of the school that’s kept in the shadows. Arduously, we sat and listen to the vulnerability of a man who shared about school days full of abuse. Abuse at the hands of his peers. Abuse that adults turned a blind eye to, time after time. Abuse that was so vile and disgusting it made your skin crawl.
The room was eerily quiet as we listened to that cassette tape. No one spoke, tears splashed, shame and regret nearly palpable. Truth was, we all connected to this story. But most of us had tried to forget. In 2000 the word BULLYING was not commonly heard. Rarely discussed. Most referred to it as a rite of passage. Every child has to go through it. Afraid. Isolated. Rejected. Confused. Abused. When did this become okay? At that time, Columbine was fresh in everyone’s minds, yet not much was being said or done to give bullying a voice. Sitting in that meeting, hearts aching, something rose up in us. We knew, without a doubt that this was the story we needed to tell. But how? After years of working with young people, we knew the power of the stage. We immediately assembled our creative team and began to write. No More Victims was born in 2001. This was the hardest show we had ever created and for good reason. No More Victims was not born out of sympathy, it was born out of empathy. In that room, on that day, what rose up in us was personal. Very personal.
For Dan, this story was all too familiar. As he heard someone else’s words, images of his own abuse played in his mind. The pain of being pushed and thrown across the school cafeteria, he remembered like yesterday. The humiliating names, taunts, and laughter from his peers, because he was overweight, not wearing the right clothes, not hanging with the right group, echoed in his ears. It didn't matter why they made fun of him. He had been targeted and the abuse was relentless. By middle school, the pain forced him into survival mode. He searched for ways to climb the social ladder and escape his abusers. One day he saw the opportunity to “fit in." Surrounded by the peers he was desperate to impress, he pushed another child’s face down into the stream of water at the fountain, only to smash his braces straight into the faucet. As he sat in the nurse's office, across from his victim, and stared at the blood dripping from the mouth of a child he once called “friend," it hit him. Who am I? Who am I to think, for even a second, that I have the right to do this to another human being?
Hurt people will hurt other people. It’s a vicious cycle, one that Dan made the choice to put an end to in his sophomore year. Two teachers took a moment out of their lives to encourage him that there was more. More in him. That his life was made for a purpose. It cost them nothing. But it radically changed the outcome of Dan’s life. Dan was lucky. Dan was the exception.
Every day in schools across America, kids are abused by their peers. Social media has allowed the abuse to chase them home. Cyberbullying leaves no place to hide. No escape. So they suffer in silence. The shame, the pain, the isolation eating them alive until one day, they break. Teen suicide. Violent acts. School shootings. So common in today’s culture we hardly give it more than a moments sigh. We shake our heads and wonder why? We’re all too afraid to admit we know the answer.
On that day, in that room, this story deserved more than just a few of our tears. Something had to change. His story. Our story. They had to be told. It was ENOUGH. A passion was born in the hearts of two artists. A passion calling us to lend our voice to those suffering in silence. The story of No More Victims would be our tool. No More Victims has now been seen by over 300,000 students across America. The ripple effect of our one day with these students has become immeasurable. As kids see their story come to life in a public forum they are given something that has the power to save lives. It’s called hope. In its absence, kids are dying. In its presence, lives are restored.
In 2008 we saw No More Victims gain international notoriety. More schools than we ever imagine were requesting an Event Day. Our dream of reaching kids across the world was suddenly becoming a reality and then, almost as quickly, our dream was threatened. After years of health challenges, Rebecca was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Everything had to stop. For five years we fought for Rebecca’s life as we watched bullying become a national conversation. It was heartbreaking to hold a life-saving tool but be unable to use it. So we fought harder. Today we are survivors. Against all odds, Rebecca is once again able to live her passion. All Access Productions is launching a new version of No More Victims into the schools in 2014.
No More Victims was a leader in our nation's conversation on the issue of bullying. Over a decade later we are still a vital part of the solution for schools and communities. It is our mission to see every school have the powerful tool of No More Victims available to them. With new innovative strategies, our goal will be reached.
One day, one story shaped the course of our lives. After 18 years, our lives remain committed to providing that one, life-changing day for every student. A day that challenges kids toward empathy for one another. A day that empowers kids with tools to create change in them and their peers. A day that saves lives.
We can’t do this alone. Our desire is to partner with you and the great work you are already doing within your school or community. The Speak Life Event is a spark that can start a fire in the hearts of kids to change the culture within their schools. We hope to share an Event Day with you, your school and your community.
Through our work with No More Victims, we realize that bullying is just one of many forms of abuse where the victim suffers in silence. As a company, we know there are many more stories to be told.
With your help, we intend to tell them.
ONE thing we know for sure…ONE day can change everything for a child.
It’s a matter of life and death.
Daniel & Rebecca Burd