WEST STOCKBRIDGE -- Two months into his junior year in high school, two weeks from earning his black belt in karate, 17-year-old Tyler Lee Long of Georgia took his own life in October 2009.
David Long, Tyler’s father, believes his son didn’t want to be bullied at school any more.
The Longs knew that Tyler, who had autism and Asperger’s Disorder, was being harassed at school. But it wasn’t until the family took legal action against the school after their son’s death that they realized how extensive the problem was, and how little the school system had done about it.
"It was much bigger and broader than we ever imagined," Long said.
Now, Long is trying to prevent other youngsters from having go through what his son did.
He spent Friday and Saturday in the Berkshires, presenting a special program on bullying to the 900 campers who attend URJ Camp Eisner in Great Barrington and URJ Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge. URJ stands for Union for Reform Judaism.
The Longs are one of the five families whose stories were featured in the documentary film, "Bully," that was released in 2011. Following the release of the film, David and his wife, Tina, formed a foundation, Everythingstarts with1.org, and began speaking to groups.
There are 14 URJ camps across the country, but five of them, including Eisner and Crane Lake, are part of the Odin Fellows program, a group that consists of second-year staff members at those camps.
When members of the fellowship at those five camps became interested in setting up their own anti-bullying programs, Long was invited to the Berkshires. Camp Eisner has 565 boy and girl campers in the third through 10th grades, while Crane Lake has 350.
"The directors thought it would be a good idea to have him come up," said Crane Lake’s development director, Corey Cutler.
In his talks, Long said he tries to convey the message that bullying has to be stopped by the youngsters themselves.
"Change is going to have to come from our youth," Long said in a soft Southern drawl. "They’re going to have to be empowered to take the lead to overcome this type of behavior."
Long said he also tries to let children know, "that they have a true value in life, and should treat each other with respect and empathy.
"If not," he said, "there’s a dire consequence at the end for some children, which is what happened to my son."
Long spoke to campers at both Eisner and Crane Lake on Friday. The campers at Crane Lake also viewed "Bully" on Friday night, and Long spoke to them briefly before the start of Saturday morning services.
Long told the 305 campers to never forget what they had learned at the camp this summer because it is up to them to change the culture of their schools.
"Each one of you has a value to your life," he said. "Never forget that."
Then, his voice cracking with emotion, Long also gave the campers advice from his son.
"If Tyler we’re here today he would tell each and every one of you don’t give up the fight," he said. "Keep the candle burning. Never let it die."
Sammy Eisenberg, a 19-year-old second year staffer at Crane Lake, has seen "Bully" three times. Following Friday night’s presentation, Eisenberg said she and her campers, who are 14-year old girls, had an "open bunk conversation" about what they had seen.
"They were very affected by it," she said.
Eisenberg described Long’s words as "powerful."
"To be able to come and speak so powerfully about the situation he’s been through," Eisenberg said, "you’re kind of almost in shock."
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