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Former Jazz player Thurl Bailey encourages education to prevent bullying

Oct 28, 2016 11:21AM ● By Julie Slama

Eastmont students react to the size difference of middle school students to 6-foot-11former Jazz center Thurl Bailey. Bailey spoke to sixth-graders about anti-bullying. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Sandy, Utah - Former Utah Jazz center Thurl Bailey stands 6 feet 11 inches now. When he was 13, he was 6 foot 4 inches and it didn’t matter. He was bullied at school.

“I was bullied because I was tall, but awkward from growing fast and I didn’t play sports,” he told Eastmont Middle School sixth-grade students. “I wasn’t accepted as I was and it was a difficult time for me since I didn’t fit in.”

Bailey said that growing up in the civil rights era in the Washington, D.C. area, he would be bused into a desegregated school where everything was “foreign in a sense.”

“I was going to a school where they didn’t want me as a person of color and where I was focused on my education, I was mistaken for being weak and was teased. I even felt deserted from my own peers and community because I wasn’t a black athlete and academics were considered foreign to them,” he said.

Bailey said that luckily he found a group of friends who helped smooth the way.

“My parents talked to me about what was going on in society so I understood, but it didn’t make it any easier not feeling accepted. Every kid wants to feel and should be accepted,” he said.

Now Bailey said kids have different issues, including social media bullying.

“It’s a broader issue now, but they need to learn how to react, how to make choices, and know there are people who are there to help,” he said.

Bailey and members of the Utah Jazz stunt team were at Eastmont to support Life Changing Experiences’ “Free 2B” interactive theater program. 

At the beginning of the program, students were given a quiz to identify how much they know about bullying — what it is, if they should report it, how it makes them feel to either be bullied or see someone bullied, and who bullying impacts.

Then, they were shown a movie, “2C or not 2C,” where a high school group of friends developed a pair of glasses that can see into one another’s emotions and feelings. Sporting the prototypes, a student identifies with students who are teased, pushed around, and made fun of and then stands up for each of them. The final scene is when the popular jocks try to push around students on a basketball court. The main bully pushes the boy with the prototype glasses down, breaking the glasses, and puts the ball in for the game winning lay-up. He then taunts the team, but realizes he is the loser when his team, and fans, walk away with those he calls “losers.” And the boy with the glasses realizes that he doesn’t need the glasses, but just needs to stand up and be empathetic to his classmates.

Another film showed how a boy felt alone and scared after being ridiculed on the internet for his red hair. The only friends he felt he had were those on the internet, but he was scared to log on and see how many more people made fun of him. After seeing some posts from others who felt alone but supported him and later seeing how they followed him wearing red wigs when they met, he realized he wasn’t alone.

A final quiz, testing what students learned over the program, was given and the top three contestants received Utah Jazz tickets.

Life Changing Experience Vice President of Operations Kenneth Bain said he hopes students learn to not become a bystander, but that this program will strengthen their empathy and awareness of others.

“You have to create a mental hook in your mind and be aware of bullying,” he said. “You don’t need special glasses. It doesn’t take technology to identify bulling. You just need to take a stand.”

Life Changing Experiences also partners with the Dallas Mavericks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Principal Stacy Kurtzhals said that while bullying isn’t any more of an issue at Eastmont as at other schools, the program came at a good time. In November, students will learn from counselors about how to identify bullying, how to deal with a bullying situation and how to report it, so “it will tie into what they learned today,” she said, adding that “we’ll also teach them how to be a friend.” 

Sixth-grader Chelsea Ballou said it was a fun way to approach the subject.

“It was a fun, interactive experience with movie clips, games and trivia and any time you can include technology is good since kids love to learn that way,” she said. “This was fun to incorporate the Jazz and listen to Thurl Bailey talk about his experience.”