If the record-breaking success of Avengers: Endgame tells us anything, it is that everybody loves a superhero. Endgame, which reunites the Avengers in their pursuit to defeat the evil Thanos, set new box office records in the United States and worldwide. In it’s opening weekend it grossed $357 million in the US and Canadian markets and $1.223 billion worldwide, beating out the previous worldwide record of $640 million worldwide.

Personally, I have always been a fan of superheroes and not just those of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). From even before the days of Christopher Reeve defeating the schemes of Lex Luthor as Superman to binge-watching Netflix originals like Daredevil, I have always enjoyed watching superhero movies and shows. Regardless of being a part of the DC or Marvel Universe, they are, at their core, a symbol for standing up for what is right and good in this world, even when that is not easy to do.

When we leave the world of fiction, there are people in this world who are, in their way, real-world superheroes. While they may not be able to take down an alien battleship or stop a speeding train, they have an inner strength of character that gives them the power to make a difference and to stand up for others.

One of the areas where we need to make a change that has positive impact is to end bullying. For students in the US between grades 6-12, 28% have experienced bullying and 15% of students grades 9-12 have been cyberbullied according to statistics sited on stopbullying.gov. For children in certain groups, such as LGBTQ or disability, these numbers skyrocket. Consider the fact that when the number of flu-related deaths exceeds 7.7%, it is officially ruled an epidemic. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 7.4% of youth grades 9-12 made at least one attempt at suicide and adolescents and young adults (15-24) had a suicide rate of 14.46% in 2017. According to the CDC, “ANY involvement with bullying behavior is one stressor which may significantly contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that raise the risk of suicide”. It is clear that bullying has reached epidemic status in the United States.

When bullying occurs, it affects everyone; everyone plays a role in either stopping or allowing this corrosive behavior to continue. In every instance of bullying, there are three roles, the bully, the victim, and the bystander. Over 70% of young people have indicated that they have witnessed bullying in their schools.

The good news is that according to stopbullying.gov, when a bystander becomes an “upstander,” otherwise known as the advocate or someone who intervenes when witnessing bullying, the bullying behavior stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. That is phenomenal! Just think of the impact we could have if more people spoke up when they witnessed bullying? Upstanders are often fellow students who have the courage to speak up when they see someone being bullied.  To me, those are our real superheroes; capes and special powers not needed. Young people finding the courage to stand up for what is right and support their peers who are being bullied, has a powerful impact. I have seen this when my young leaders learning about bullying and how to stop it, come together to support each other both in and outside of school. They not only make allies; they make a difference. The Bender Lead On Team provides support via Facebook for kids to connect with other students and disability advocates to stand up against bullying. When someone posts about being bullied on the Lead On Team page, everyone has something to say to support the person.

My students in the Bender Leadership Academy often demonstrate the courage to be an advocate or upstander when they see a fellow student being bullied. I am so proud of these young leaders who are taking a stand against bullying and demonstrating positive behavior to end bullying in their schools. It is young people like these, who are making a difference for the better every day.

Remember, when beginning your journey to become a real-life superhero, avoid violent confrontations.  As an upstander, you will get best results when questioning the behavior verbally, changing the subject, using humor to diffuse the situation, or walking with the person being bullied so they are not alone. Find strength in numbers by showing that there are other people who don’t agree with the bullying behavior. It is by banding together to take the stance that we will not tolerate bullying any longer that we will see a change, creating a better, safer world for all. To borrow a line from Captain America, I leave you with this message, Upstanders Assemble!

For more helpful tips on being an upstander, please visit Bystanders to Bullying.

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