Post by Rohmteen Mokhtari, Former HRC Coordinator, Family Project

kathryn otoshi reading, zero
Author Kathryn Otoshi leads students in a reading of her book Zero. (c) Judy Rolfe/HRC

We often hear heartbreaking stories about students who are bullied because of who they are or who they are perceived to be.

Wednesday night over 100 students, parents and educators gathered on a more hopeful note in Washington D.C. to learn what we could do to stop and prevent bullying.

We were warmly welcomed into the Cleveland Elementary School community for the national premiere of What Can We Do? Bias, Bullying, and Bystanders– the latest professional development film produced by the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program.

Principal Dawn Feltman kicked off the event and spoke of the “moral obligation” that educators and community members have to ensure that schools are safe and respectful places. David Esquith, Director of  the Office of Safe and Healthy Students for the U.S. Department of Education reminded us that addressing bias and bullying was a critical part of helping students learn and do their best at school. And Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers Union, gave a rousing endorsement of the Welcoming Schools approach speaking passionately about the need to proactively address bullying.

But as I’m sure most attendees would agree, the most powerful voices last night were those of the students in the room.

We heard from students in the film who spoke about the bullying they faced, who we watched as they participated in open class discussions about bias and standing up for each other. We heard from students from the Cleveland Elementary School who eagerly joined author Kathryn Otoshi as she read her books One and Zero about being yourself and standing up for others being bullied. These students discussed bullying with incredible honesty and empathy. We heard from students in the audience who are involved in a high school gay straight alliance who were working to combat bias at their school.

For me, the most memorable moment of the night wasn’t until the end, when the Cleveland Elementary Chorus performed “I Am Me.”

The event was a reminder of the hunger that is out there for substantive tools to address bullying and help students embrace differences. Watch a report on the event from ABC 7 below and learn more about the film at

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