CEDAR SPRINGS, MI – More than 500 Cedar Springs Middle School students Monday, April 14, attended a high-energy concert by Teen Nation Tour with a clear message: Stand and Defend Against Bullying.
The six recording artists wowed the crowd with a mixture of popular pop and RB songs, while weaving in personal stories, tips and lessons about bullying.
“They picked common songs that kids liked to get us engaged before sharing their message,” said eighth-grader Mackenna Darling, 14, in a loud gymnasium. “I think it was great. This school does a lot to help with bullying with programs such as Be Nice and Rachel’s Challenge.
Teen Nation Tour is a year-long anti-bullying campaign and concert tour that is performing in 15 schools in nine Kent County school districts through April 22. The program kicked-off Monday morning before 560 students at Sparta Middle School before heading to Cedar Springs. TNT expects to to reach more than 10,000 students.
Related: Teen Nation Tour: Music-fueled anti-bullying program coming to nine school districts
“I liked like how they tied the message in with music and didn’t shove it down our throats,” said eighth-grader Brandon Owens, 13.
Co-headliners, 14-year-olds J. Ryan and Tristan Blaine, opened the show and hyped up the crowd with Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home.” Students were on their feet most of the show clapping, singing and dancing. The artists often went into the bleachers and occasionally, brought students to the floor to sing to them.
But students became silent when artists such as Blaine shared their experiences with being bullied and stories about others.
For example, Blaine spoke to the crowd about a National Guardsman’s 16-year-old daughter who hung herself in her closet. He told the students about how she endured relentless bullying from so-called friends, and her former boyfriend who called her “ugly, stupid and worthless.”
“We don’t want you to be bystanders, we want you to be upstanders,” said 16-year-old singer Faith Shirley, after a performance of Taylor Swift’s,”We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” in which she brought more than 50 boys down to the gym floor.
The artists would periodically ask the students what they were going to do against bullying, and they yelled to the top of their lungs, “stand and defend!”
“Stand and defend is about not sitting back and watching kids being bullied,” said seventh-grader Audrie Davis, about the message to say something or tell an adult about bullying.
“I thought it was really cool how they brought the audience into the show. It was really entertaining.”
The artists spoke of verbal and physical bullying as well as saying mean, hateful things via cyber bullying to others.
“We are all teens here and relate to these students well because we’re in the same age category and go through the same things they go through,” said J. Ryan, who was a former X-Factor contestant. “This is such an important and powerful message to spread.”
Sue Spahr, principal of Cedar Springs Middle School, said the tour aligns with the school’s efforts to reduce bullying over the last four years.
“We’ve just been working continuously to help students understand ways they can reach out in kindness and just enjoy diversity in the culture whatever that looks like,” she said. “This is just one more way to continue to keep the message alive and keep it at the forefront of their mind.”
After performing Akon’s “What You Got,’ Collin Kozola, 17, talked to the students about his struggles in school with bullying because he was considered different.
Lee Wilson, launched Teen Nation Tour in 2012, motivated by the bullying of his son, who was beaten on a school bus in 2009. He said students connect better with the teenage artists than adults on the subject.
“After these kids leave a school, they get hundreds and hundreds of messages from students about how to handle a certain situation or what to do about friend being bullied,” he said, about the artists gave out their Twitter addresses.
Based in San Antonio, TX, the tour travels to schools across the country. The tour is done in partnership with UNITE Media Group, headquartered in Troy, MI. Kent Intermediate School District coordinated the tour for the districts.
Other participating districts include: Wyoming, Kentwood, Godwin Heights, Rockford, Byron Center, Kenowa Hills, and Northview.
The Teen Nation Tour will be at the remaining schools:
• Tuesday, April 15, Wyoming Intermediate School and Wyoming Junior High School.
• Wednesday, April 16, TNT performs for Northview’s Highlands and Crossroads middle school students. A 7 p.m. community performance is planned at the Performing Arts Center, located in Northview High School, 4451 Hunsberger Ave. NE.
• Thursday, April 17, Godwin Heights Middle School and North Rockford Middle School.
• Friday, April 18, Kentwood’s Crestwood and Valleywood middle schools.
• Monday, April 21, Kentwood’s Pinewood Middle Schools and Byron Center West Middle School.
• Tuesday, April 22, Kenowa Hills Middle and High Schools.
Monica Scott is the Grand Rapids K-12 education writer. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MScottGR or Facebook