Friend Movement co-founders raise awareness of bullying prevention with 921 mile walk

Thu. October 3, 2013 10:59 AM by GoPride.com News Staff

elliot london and ronnie kroell with tj chernick, 2012

photo credit // chicagopride.com file

Ronnie Kroell and Elliot London to walk from Chicago to New York City

Chicago, IL - October is National Bullying Prevention Month and Ronnie Kroell and Elliot London, cofounders of the Friend Movement, are celebrating by walking from Chicago to New York City over a period of 37 days to raise awareness for increased bullying prevention efforts across the country.

Kroell and London begin their nearly 1,000 mile walk this Saturday, Oct. 5, from the famous Bean in Millenium Park and plan to arrive in New York on Sunday, Nov. 10.

"Silence and inaction are just not an option anymore," said Kroell, a 30-year-old fashion model and actor, best known for appearing on season one of Bravo's "Make Me A Supermodel," who was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in Los Angeles.

London is an Australian-born filmmaker who last year received acclaim for his short, pro-marriage equality film titled "The Wedding Dance."

The duo was introduced by a mutual friend and mutually hit it off, both wanting to respond to a recent increase in bullying and teen suicide. Friend Movement was born in July of 2012 "to dream, to create and to inspire our communities to promote and encourage friendship as a proactive response to the issue of bullying."

Kroell further explained in a conversation with ChicagoPride.com, "Instead of having an anti-bullying conversation, we decided to start a conversation of pro-friendship. It is important to the Friend Movement team to be on the ground, gathering and sharing stories and empowering youth and adults alike to overcome fear."

This year, Friend Movement collaborated with Bianca Kosoy, Ryan Forbes, Jewely Bennett and Robert Patin to launch their very successful and edgy photo campaign called "The New F Word - Giving Bullying The Bird." Hollywood celebrities like Tim Gunn, Adam Lambert, Carmen Electra, Lance Bass, Rachel Dratch, Rumer Willis and more donated their faces and middle fingers to the campaign that Kroell said teaches "it's okay to be angry, but it's how we channel that anger into positive action that makes all the difference."

Friend Movement also hosted a benefit concert this July celebrating music and friendship that featured headliner LeAnne Rimes at Los Angeles' El Rey Theater. London is also in pre-production for "Friend," a feature film that will explore the issues of bullying, suicide and friendship.

The Friend Movement Walk is inspired by the tragic and nationally recognized suicide of 18-year-old Rutger's student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York City as a result of the anti-gay bullying he faced. Now three years later, Kroell and London are literally taking the streets to raise awareness and start discussions about how to end bullying with friendship.

The 37-day, 921-mile walk will see the duo, accompanied by a team of professional artists and producers, following the sideroads of America through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and ending in New York City. Along the way they plan to stop at schools, community centers and chambers of commerce along the route to meet with people and gather their stories. They will also be leaving purple ribbons along every mile of their route to honor Clementi's memory and those of anyone victimized or driven to suicide by bullying.

Friend Movement Walk is produced with collaboration from GLSEN, GLAAD and the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Tyler's older brother, openly gay activist James Clementi, and other Clementi family members, will be joining the duo at various times along their month-long trek, including for its culmination when they will walk across the George Washington Bridge, "a symbol of overcoming these challenges together as a community," Kroell and London told ChicagoPride.com, before holding a candlelight vigil in New York City.

"The Tyler Clementi Foundation is thrilled to be joining forces with the Friend Movement to make an impact that reaches across the U.S.," said James Clementi, who came out to his parents months after his brother's suicide in 2010 and founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation. "As we join up with Ronnie and Elliot for a portion of their heroic walk across the country, we are excited to help create a community of Upstanders. By becoming Upstanders, we can make a culture shift that makes everyone, including LGBT youth."

Kroell and London are hosting two events in Chicago, Friday Oct. 4, to kick-off their month-long campaign against bullying. The first is the "You've Got A Friend" bullying prevention panel, hosted at the Center on Halsted from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. A panel comprised of students, teachers, psychologists, community members and celebrity/activist friend Richard Pryor, Jr. will be moderated by Colleen Tomanek, AM, LSW of Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. The event is free and open to the public, with all welcome to listen, share and participate in finding solutions to bullying.

Directly after the panel, the team will head to Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville for their night-before kick-off party, "921 Miles." The event is an opportunity to meet the Friend Movement team, learn more about their upcoming adventure and help raise some of the much needed funding to bring this dream of theirs to life. Hosted by Richard Pryor Jr. with music spun by the DJs The Byrne Twins, "921 Miles" takes place from 9 to 11 p.m. with a $10 suggested donation (but Kroell and London stress budget concerns shouldn't hold folks back from coming out to learn more and celebrate).

"Friend Movement is more than just Elliot and myself, it has grown organically and exponentially thanks to the amazing people that have offered their dedication and donations," Kroell told ChicagoPride.com. "Bullying doesn't discriminate and neither do we, so we are inviting individuals from around the globe to participate in our walk in a few different ways."

In addition to following their walk via Facebook, Twitter and www.friendmovement.com -- the duo plans to publish their journey weekly via blogs, videos and photos -- you can help Kroell and London raise their $19,420 goal with a donation to their indiegogo campaign. For a tax-deductible $20 donation, you'll receive a special Friend Movement watch and a postage-paid envelope with a purple ribbon inside to dedicate and send the New York City for the candlelight vigil. Funds raised will be used to cover the costs of travel, insurance, lodging, event production, filming the entire journey, etc., with any money raised beyond the goal being donated to the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Friend Movement.

Another way to support the Friend Movement is simply by changing your middle name on Facebook and Twitter to "FRIEND" to show solidarity with their cause.

"Everyone has something to gain by being a better friend, to themselves and to others around them," concluded Kroell.
 

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