PLEASANT HILL -- Bullying. The one-word, destructive pandemic sweeping across primary school blacktops or digitally on the wings of social media is insidious. Kids know it. Adults fear it.
The Pleasant Hill Library's Teen Advisory Group and the Pleasant Hill Teen Council are collaborating on a Saturday event aimed at initiating a first-steps-to-prevention discussion.
Following the 6 p.m. screening of the award-winning documentary, "Bully," at the Pleasant Hill Teen Center at 147 Gregory Lane, a moderated panel will engage participating teens, parents and educators.
"We wanted to find a prevalent topic, and the Teen Council said bullying was affecting their schools," said Katrina Hunn, Teen Center and special events supervisor. "I modeled the program with a film and a talk based on events I've seen (in other East Bay communities)."
The agenda is largely teen-directed, Hunn said. Although she researched the film to be presented, the format for the evening evolved from priorities the teen groups identified. Helena Strand, a 16-year old senior at College Park High School, is chair of the Teen Council.
"Since I'm in high school, I see lots of things happen daily," she said. "It's sad because you don't know what you're adding to someone's situation. You might be the one thing that makes that person go into overdrive. You never know."
There is a commonality of the pervasive problem. Strand recounts her experience as a victim of bullying.
"It was people talking about me on Twitter. They wrote bad things and included my name. I cried and went MIA for a week. I didn't talk to anyone," she said.
Strand is a teen with friends, family and the grit to eventually say to herself, "Whatever, it isn't worth stopping my life for one person." Even so, the embarrassment was excruciating, she insisted, saying, "I couldn't even bring it up to my friends -- the idea that someone would not like me to that extent."
The 2011 documentary "Bully," directed by Lee Hirsch and initially given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, found redemptive broadcast liberation when the Weinstein Co. released it, unrated, in protest.
The adult rating (due to language) would have kept the film from reaching a wide, crucial swath of its intended audience: middle age teens. Following additional negotiations and modifications, 2012's PG-13 version began to screen nationwide.
The character-driven film is not a romp. (An advance screener was made available to press for this article.) Filmed in an astounding, frank style in the state of Iowa's Sioux City Community School District, teen pain, parental grief, administrative ineptitude and a community's despair arrive unfettered.
"He cried, and then it got to the point where he didn't cry anymore," says David Long, father of Tyler, who committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom closet.
"People call me fish face. I don't mind," 12-year-old Alex says -- his tone, cavalier; his face, stern. Home videos later in the film show him as an infant, "dancing" blissfully to out-of-date rock tunes while his mother, enraptured, sings his praises.
And there's Kelby, age 16, in Tuttle, Okla., who has cut herself and made three suicide attempts.
And Ja'Maye, 14, a Mississippi child so battered by bullying she borrowed her mother's handgun and brandished it one day on the school bus. The shy, unassuming child has landed in a juvenile detention facility and loaded her history with multiple felony counts.
Back in St. Louis, Murray County Superintendent Vickie Reed goes on camera, saying, "Do we have bullying in our schools? All schools do."
A high school principal is clueless, interrogating boys in the hall, dismissing parent's concerns over escalating violence, destroying a viewer's hopes that someone -- anyone -- will stop the madness.
"The Bully Project," a program developed by the film's makers, provides the hope their film does not. With extensive online tools developed by experts for use by educators, students, parents and advocacy organizations, a full curriculum of activities has enough teeth to achieve their intended goal of reaching 10 million kids with the anti-bullying message.
Strand said a pledge that will be taken at the end of the evening will be one action the local community can take toward necessary change.
"I hope there's a chain reaction and people figure out it's not OK to bully. We have to stop before kids do stupid things to harm themselves," she said.
Hunn, of the Pleasant Hill Teen Center, said she's eager to "get the campaign started" and looks forward to working with the teen groups to plan future, topical, film and discussion events.
What: "Bully," documentary film and discussion
When: 6 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pleasant Hill Teen Center, 147 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill
Information: Visit ccclib.org