Unify Against Bullying is an American nonprofit organization that in the last few months has reached out to people all over the world during it’s Unify-selfie challenge. “The best part is that we’re just getting started,“ says Edward Zemba, Unify’s president and one of it’s founders.
I don’t remember anyone being bullied when I was in school. But when I wrote a book about bullying in Iceland 13 years ago, The Silent War – Bullying in Iceland, I met a horrible world.
An Icelandic friend of mine, who lives in Massachusetts and is married to Edward Zemba’s friend, told me about Unify Against Bullying last October. I contacted Zemba and offered to help in Unify’s mission to reach out to people in various countries to take such selfies. I got to know an amazing international adventure which is in its infancy and got pictures from people in Iceland, Sweden, Greenland, Hungary, Belgium, Malawi and Dominica. And the adventure continues.
One of the Icelanders I told about Unify is the musician Gréta Salóme who represented Iceland in Eurovison in 2016 with her song “Hear them calling“. She sent a Unify-selfie and now she is an official Unify spokesperson. Recently the co-singer of the Icelandic band Of Monsters of men sent a Unify-selfie.
They don’t always tell
“Like many parents, my wife and I have had to deal with bullying challenges over the years with our children,“ Unify’s president, Edward Zemba, says. He lives in Massachusetts in the US with his wife, Susanne, and their four children and his main job is being a president of Robert Charles Photography.
“We have been on all sides of the issue. There was one time in particular when we learned about an incident long after it had occurred. It really surprised us as we’d always prided ourselves on having open communications with our children. That’s when we started to fully understand how kids don’t like to talk about bullying – especially with their parents.
It’s a dangerous reality we live in, as when kids keep it to themselves it can spiral out of control and become life-threatening. In our case, we were fortunate as we eventually learned about what happened and our child was able to get assistance. Some families are not so fortunate.”
The Zembas’ community has seen the damage this pervasive issue can cause first hand. It has experienced two nationally reported on suicides due to bullying.
In January of 2015, the Zembas decided to hold a fundraiser to bring attention to the problem and began looking for an anti-bullying charity. “We wanted to donate all of the proceeds from our annual fashion show, which was dedicated to celebrating the uniqueness of each and every child. Although we found a number of small efforts, none seemed to fit what we were looking for. We wanted an organization which incorporated children into the running of its anti-bullying programs. This was due to our experience that children seemed to respond better to other kids, rather than well-intentioned adults. Eventually, we turned to fellow parents, business leaders and students to ask for help. Before long, Unify Against Bullying was born.“
The charity was approved by the state of Massachusetts in January of 2016.
Unify’s stated mission is to bring an end to bullying through the celebration of TRUE diversity. “That’s why our signature fashion show celebrates kids of all shapes, styles, sizes, ethnicity, sexual orientation and physical ability. We intend to send a message to the world’s youth… “When we stand together, we stand as one.“
Last year, The kids of Unify decided that they wanted to reach out to other youth throughout the world. They figured the best way to do so was through social media. In particular, they wanted to help bring an end to the silence associated with bullying.
“When we launched the unify selfie challenge, the kids wanted to make sure that the message really spread. They originally started with the idea of getting all 50 states to participate. Soon that grew to getting 50 countries. Within a week, the kids of Unify received selfie challenges from families all over the world. Many were from locations the kids couldn’t pronounce.
Unify has grown far faster than we ever imagined. In our first year, we were able to raise over $45,000 and start the social media movement which traveled through all 50 states and to over 50 countries in only 50 days. The best part is that we’re just getting started.“
For 2017, the kids of Unify have decided to get 50 celebrities to join the unify selfie challenge.
“These kids take this issue very seriously and are willing to do whatever it takes to help bring attention to it. Our hope is that the celebrities they reach out to feel the same. So far, Chris Evans, Zach Braff and Gréta Salóme have also participated. Most recently, Raggi, co-lead singer of the Icelandic band Of Monsters & Men has joined those who are standing with the kids of Unify Against Bullying.“
Additionally, Gréta Salóme not only did the selfie challenge, but offered to fly out to the U.S. and perform at the 5/16, 2017 fashion show. While in the U.S., she will be visiting area schools and talking about the challenges of dealing with cyber-bullying as a public figure.
Goals for the future
Zemba says the goals for the future are to to bring funding to those who are on the front lines of bullying. “We intend to accomplish this goal through providing grants to those who are in the best position to make a difference; children, parents, teachers and administrators. These are the unsung heroes who are on the front-lines of bullying each and every day. Through providing them with funding and resources, we can show the children of the world that the days of ignoring bullying are over. Instead, we are in a new era where we celebrate our differences and come together as one community. That is why in the Unify movement we say; when we stand together, we stand as one.“
Another goal is go bring an end to bullying through the celebration of true diversity. “Bullying affects children of every shape, size, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or physical ability. We hope to bring awareness to the global community about the need to celebrate our differences, instead of alienating them.“
Why don’t you send a Unify-selfie that will be posted on Unify’s Facebook-page?
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For more information about Unify Against Bullying visit www.unifyagainstbullying.org
Video and Featured Photo courtesy of Unify Against Bullying
Tags: edward zemba, greta salome, unify against bullying
Svava Jónsdóttir, who is Icelandic, has worked as a journalist for the past 25 years and has written four books. She has also translated a book by Carina Axelsson: Model Under Cover: A Crime of Fashion. Svava has a BA-degree in Spanish and literature, a diploma in journalism, a teaching certification and a diploma in international relations. Apart of working as a journalist, she’s also writing her MA thesis in international relations. Svava is a member of the board of the United Nations Association of Iceland. Her interests? Literature and music; she studied music for about a decade. And she likes to travel.
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