In October, a 15-year-old teenager from Vancouver, British Columbia, took her own life after she said the bullying at her high school became too much to bear.
The victim, Amanda Todd, posted a YouTube video entitled “My Story: struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm,” communicating the internal pain she felt approximately a month before her death. In the weeks that followed, people across the globe rallied around Amanda and her family, offering support and words of comfort.
After learning of Amanda’s tragic story a few weeks ago, Southern High's Art Department Chairman Mike Bell said he was deeply affected by the news.
“I came in to work the next morning, I came in really early, and I just started to paint,” Bell said. “I stretched the canvas and just started on pure emotion.”
Bell placed a photo of Amanda nearby and got to work. Only problem was, he had a class to teach in first period. He had completed about half of Amanda’s face when the students started walking into class. They were his most mature class of the year, so he felt it was appropriate to share with them what had happened to the teen in Vancouver.
“I shared the video with them and I shared the portrait. They were all moved to tears and compelled that they wanted to do something too,” Bell said.
In the weeks that followed, Bell, his art students and hundreds of others from throughout the school helped create a memorial to Amanda—standing as a message of support to her family and tribute to prevent bullying for future generations.
Their creation, a large 4-by-8 canvas, captures Amanda’s face along with hundreds of students' handprints in purple—the national bullying awareness color, Bell said. As the art students worked on the painting, hundreds of students would use their lunch break to get their hands dipped in purple paint and stamp their mark on the portrait.
After two weeks of collaboration, the project was complete. Bell and Southern High shipped the portrait to Amanda's mother, Carol Todd, just days before what would have been Amanda’s 17th birthday.
Southern High principal Marc Procaccini said he was incredibly proud of Bell and the student body for stepping up in such a significant way, especially for someone thousands of miles away.
“This event has deeply resonated with many of the students in the art program,” Procaccini said. “[Bell] is simply an amazing, selfless individual who does wonderful deeds, not only for our students and their families, but for those who he doesn’t even know.”
After learning of Southern High’s project, Amanda’s mother got in touch with Bell and Procaccini to share her gratitude.
“As one educator to another, I know how much time, effort and love went into this project for you, your students and your colleagues. I absolutely so appreciate the immense effort and time,” Carol Todd wrote in an email to the teacher and principal.
Bell said as much as he wanted to show his support for the Todd family, it was equally important to use the opportunity to connect with students and help them face the serious reality of bullying.
“We created some positive conversations here within the school,” Bell said. “In a way, it challenged the kids and said, ‘Look around you. You can see where this leads, so let's do something about it and make some positive change for the next kid around,’” said Bell.