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Bullying Targeted in Walk from the Bean to the Big Apple

By Quinn Ford | October 5, 2013 8:04am
 Ronnie Kroell and Elliot London will lead a 921-mile walk to put a spotlight on bullying prevention.
From The Bean To The Big Apple: Activists Walk To Fight Bullying
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CHICAGO — Elliot London felt a little under the weather Friday afternoon, which wasn't the best news as he prepared to walk 921 miles to New York City to put a spotlight on bullying.

"That's how it always works out, doesn't it?" joked the 32-year-old filmmaker.

But London, along with Ronnie Kroell, 30, co-founders of the organization Friend Movement, said he was still prepared to go ahead with the walk starting Saturday to call attention to a problem that both believe has gotten worse in recent years.

London and Kroell, who both grew up in the Chicago area before moving to Los Angeles, experienced bullying growing up, but they said the 2010 suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi spurred them to activism.

"I remember there were days I faked sick just so I could stay home," Kroell said, remembering his own experiences with bullying. "I was always hiding around the next corner to see if my bully was going to be there or not."

Kroell said he was beat up and chased home throughout grade school and into high school, but he said things are harder for kids who are bullied today. Bullying is increasingly moving out of the classroom and onto the Internet using platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, Kroell said.

Kroell and London said the ambitious 37-day walk will be about celebrating the lives of Clementi and the increasing number of those like him who lost their lives or are struggling with being bullied.

"Elliot and myself, we like to tell people's stories," said Kroell, an actor. "And the only way to really tell people's stories is to find them and bring them to life, so being on foot gives us the time and the ability to walk through communities and meet people."

The two have been training for the walk for several hours a day for months, they said, but Kroell said he is still "scared to death" because he has never done anything before like it.

London said he thinks the two are prepared, although they may need more shoes.

"I bought two pairs, but I think we're going to need 10," he said with a laugh.

London said Chicago made sense as a starting point for the walk because it is home for both of them. He grew up in Rockford, and Kroell grew up in the city's Andersonville neighborhood before moving to Morton Grove.

But London admits part of their thinking was that beginning in Los Angeles may have proved a little dangerous.

"We figured walking through the Mojave Desert would kill us," London said.

Kroell and London will be stopping in cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia along the way to talk at schools and community centers with people about bullying, beginning with an anti-bullying panel at the Center On Halsted held Friday night.

If all goes to plan, the walk will culminate with a "symbolic" crossing of the George Washington Bridge — where Celementi committed suicide — and then a vigil in Hudson River Park.

Friend Movement has raised more than $7,000 for the walk so far to help fund the walk, and the organization said any extra money raised will go to the Tyler Clementi Foundation and the Friend Movement organizations.

London and Kroell said they do not claim to have the answer to eradicate bullying but said they want to see the national conversation shift from "anti-bullying to pro-friendship."

"What we're trying to do on this walk is instill confidence in people, empower people, inspire people to really ... embrace themselves," Kroell said. "When you're your own best friend, you walk through the world differently."

London said bullying "doesn't discriminate" and the walk will be about finding answers and hopefully changing attitudes.

"We all know that bullying is something that's not going to go away 100 percent," London said. "Our goal, honestly, is if Ronnie and I can walk 921 miles, if we can get one kid or one adult to change one little thing in their life to better themselves, then we did our job."