By JENNIFER MEIER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
MIDDLEBURY – Thursday morning 70 specially-chosen fourth and fifth graders from Heritage Intermediate were walking to Northridge High School for a swim. They were being rewarded for their stance against bullying.
At just the same time, Ronnie Kroell and Elliot London were walking along U.S. 20 through Middlebury on a 921-mile journey from Chicago to New York to promote an anti-bullying, pro-friendship walk.
As the students, Heritage Intermediate Principal Kari Dyer and Vice Principal Teresa Detering gathered outside the natatorium doors that face U.S. 20 the two groups met, talked and tied purple ribbons on a fence in honor of those who have lost their lives because of bullying.
“We had no idea these gentlemen were in the area,” Principal Dyer said. “It was just a neat coincidence that in a way we were both walking for the same thing – a message of no-bullying, a message of friendship.”
Kroell and London, co-founders of the Friend Movement began their 37-day journey on Oct. 5 and still have 800 miles to go before reaching New York City, where they will hold a candlelight vigil on Nov. 10. The two are placing a purple ribbon each mile they walk in remembrance of those whose lives ended too soon due to bullying.
“It’s important for us to be on the ground, in the communities, changing the conversation from anti-bullying to pro-friendship.” Kroell said. “We can all find a common thread, a common bond.”
Both Kroell and London know there is no immediate cure for the problem. But they both hope to bring awareness, enlightenment and ultimately positive empowerment to everyone facing difficult issues.
“Bullying is not a fad. It can touch all people on all levels,” London said. “We have to find that common thread, we have to look out for each other. We are doing this to bring a voice to people.”
Kroell and London are followed by a team of supporters including a producer, several videographers and others to document their journey.
Even with the support, the journey has taken the two well out of their comfort zone.
“It’s been life changing for us, we are really pushing the limits,” London said. “It’s been a little scary – not having anything planned, just walking through communities.”
Outside that comfort zone, however, the two have found moments they will never forget.
“We were walking through Gary and this car slowed down. They rolled the window down and asked us what we were doing,” Kroell said. “When we told them, the whole family got out of the car and helped us place purple ribbons by the side of the road.”
London remembers talking to the owner of a restaurant in Hobart about his message of friendship.
“We went back into the kitchen to talk with her, and she almost broke down telling us about her son being badly bullied on the bus,” London said. “We really need to think of how we can be better to each other.”
Both Kroell and London have found that they are learning and growing along with each step they take.
“This is the first time I’ve ever met an Amish person,” London said. “I found the kids to be so approachable. That wasn’t how I though it would be.”
London praised the Middlebury School System for their positive work towards teaching students how to deal with bullying.
Dyer congratulated the fourth and firth graders for their efforts to promote friendship.
“Enjoy this day,” she said. “We want to acknowledge what you’ve done. We need a school full of you.”
The Friend Movement began as an effort to honor Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who three years ago took his life after a cyber-bullying attack.
The Friend Walk is to honor all those who have taken their lives due to bullying, to bring awareness to an issue that has affected most people at some point in their lives.
For more information visit friendmovement.com.