Carrboro clothing line combats bullying

By Megan Walker

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

In the midst of rising national concern about bullying, two Carrboro moms recently launched a clothing line with the goal of raising funds and awareness for bullying prevention.

“It is an incredibly important issue,” said co-founder Melissa Weiss.  “Even people who think that bullying doesn’t affect them or that it doesn’t affect their children, I can guarantee that it affects every student in every kind of school.”

Melissa Weiss, with partner Meredith Weiss, launched the “Be a Friend” custom clothing line a few months ago.  All items have graphics of animated friendships.  The line currently features t-shirts, sweat shirts, hats and pins, which can all be purchased on their website.

Melissa Weiss poses for a photo next to some of the "Be a Friend" clothing she sold at a booth in University Mall on March 18. (Staff Photo by Megan Walker)

Melissa Weiss, who serves as spokesperson for the partners, said, “We sell these shirts and donate a significant portion of our proceeds back to an organization that works on bullying and special needs as a way to give back.”

According to their website, one dollar from every item sold is currently donated to the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center.

In March, President Barack Obama held the first ever White House Conference on bullying prevention.  He said, “A third of middle school and high school students have reported being bullied during the school year.  Almost 3 million students have said they were pushed, shoved, tripped, even spit on.”

He said, “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not.”

Melissa Weiss said, “I think it [bullying] is getting more attention and publicity than it ever has before. It is being acknowledged as a problem.  I don’t think when I went to school anyone even talked about it.  It just happened.”

In his address, President Obama said, “It’s also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

Melissa Weiss said she was motivated to start the line because she has a son with speech delays and heard stories from other parents about bullying at speech therapy.

“Finding a safe environment for your child to go to school, most people don’t even have to think about that, but if you have a child with special needs, that’s in your thought process all the time,” said Melissa Weiss.

She sold merchandise in University Mall on March 18 and was enthusiastic to see the clothing line starting conversations.

“I’ve just seen these spontaneous conversations happening with the parents and the kids explaining about bullying and what kids with special needs are,” she said. “They just had these really wonderful conversations.”

She also said the clothing line is geared toward smaller children. “I think it needs to start in the elementary school.”

Principal Emily Bivins of Carrboro Elementary, and principal Amanda Hartness of McDougle Elementary, said their schools have an anti-bullying curriculum. The schools’ programs are called Second Step for preK to 2nd grade and Steps to Respect for grades 3 to 5.

“It is the number one job of the district and school to make sure that students feel safe and secure at school,” said Hartness.  “I encourage my teachers to take time in class to build a sense of community within the classroom.  Taking the time to build this community helps decrease bullying and teasing.”

Bivins said she had not heard of the clothing line, but would be interested in their goals.

Melissa Weiss said her goal for the clothing line is to use it as a fundraiser in schools with the proceeds going to fund the bullying prevention programs.

“If people start responding to it differently instead of being afraid of the bully or thinking the bully is cool, it’s going to happen less,” she said.

President Obama said, “No child should be afraid to go to school in this country.”

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