You could have heard a pin drop when Tom Murphy, co-founder of Sweethearts & Heroes, delivered his presentation about bullying recently to students at Harborside Middle School. Murphy, a former professional MMA fighter and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) competitor, dramatically entered the school’s gymnasium with hard-rock music blaring as video footage of him competing as a fighter was projected on the screen. Much to students’ surprise, Murphy’s first words to the group were, “I hate fighting.”

From that point on, students and staff settled in for the next 90 minutes as they listened and learned about an action-based approach to anti-bullying strategies. Murphy, a father of four from St. Albans, Vt., used a clear, strong voice and no-nonsense style to drive home a message to students about bullying. Quoting Albert Einstein, Murphy said, “The world is a dangerous place not because of those who choose to do evil, but because of those who choose to do nothing about it.”

Murphy then asked attendees to think about a time where they had encountered a situation involving bullying and what they did in response. The subject of inaction became the focus for the remainder of the discussion.

The core of Murphy’s presentation centered on his concept of the “5 Bully Buttons,” using the five fingers on a hand as a reminder of the steps to take when encountering a bullying situation. Students were mesmerized with Murphy’s discussion, which incorporated several activity-based scenarios, using students as volunteers.

To give a real-life example of what it means to be resilient and to take an action-based approach, Murphy introduced fellow presenter Rick Yarosh, a retired sergeant with the U.S. Army. Yarosh, who was severely injured while serving in Iraq, suffered the loss of one leg and burns over most of his body after his vehicle exploded from tripping an IED hidden in the roadway.

After months of rehabilitation and thinking about what he would do next, Yarosh admitted that there were days when he wanted to give up. It was during this painful time, however, he decided he had to press on and turn a negative situation into a positive one.

“Perspective” became the concept that Yarosh talked about with students.

Today, Yarosh enjoys life and has travelled the country and spoken with thousands of students along the way. The message of overcoming adversity was clearly received by students in the audience.

At the conclusion of the presentation, students were arranged into smaller groups to participate in workshop-style discussions and activities. As an added dimension to the workshop activities, a group of Yale University football players joined the presenters, helping lead the discussions on resilience and finding the strength to keep moving forward.

Representing the Yale athletes was Sebastian Little, a former tight end for the Yale team and December 2016 Yale graduate.

“As college student athletes, we understand how powerful it is to be a part of something greater than oneself. Sweethearts & Heroes does just that. Their message is inspiring and we’re so excited to be a part of it,” Little commented.

Steven Gottlieb, principal of Harborside Middle School, was impressed with the program and convinced that the messaging was heard by students.

“The presentation aligned perfectly to the work the Harborside community has engaged in over the last three years. Our Value System provides a structure in which students can employ the strategies presented by Sweethearts and Heroes,” Gottlieb said.