What our grandparent’s generation may have considered a “normal” part of growing up – bullying – is considered an epidemic in American schools these days. As the facts about bullying become clearer and rates of suicide and mental health struggles increase for younger people, we can see how far-reaching the issue has become.
According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of every five students reports being bullied for several reasons, ranging from physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and sexual orientation. The CDC asserts that “students who experience bullying are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement and dropping out of school.” Additionally, although there are often other contributing factors to consider, “students who report frequently bullying others and students who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior.”
TMS spoke exclusively with actor and performer Cassie Scerbo in October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month. This month is a time to bring awareness to bullying and what we can all do to stop it. The cause is especially important to Scerbo as Vice President of the national bullying prevention and awareness organization Boo2Bullying.
An actor and an advocate
Scerbo is both an actor and singer who started in the industry when she was just in elementary school, so she’s had plenty of life experience as a performing artist despite her young age. “I came out of the womb singing, dancing and wanting to act,” she says. “I just always loved performing.”
Her strong personality helped her confidence and resilience to keep at her career for 20 years so far – a line of work that many who start that young often end up leaving. She started in commercials and “just worked [her] way up and was super persistent.” This persistence paid off when she was signed to Geffen Records. She eventually moved more into the acting space with TV movies and a multi-season run on the Olympic-gymnastics based ABC Family show “Make It or Break It.”
On the show, Scerbo played Lauren Tanner, a known bully. In fact, Scerbo says that sometimes fans have a hard time separating the fictional character from the actor portraying her. Scerbo may play a convincing bully – but in real life, she is anything but.
Sometimes artists have the reputation of being out-of-touch or aloof, but Scerbo says growing up with an incredible support system helped keep her grounded and pursue interests outside the performing arts. Nevertheless, Scerbo acknowledges that “sometimes when people start out really young, things can get a little shaky.”
“When you’re trying to find yourself, but you’ve got the world looking at you or whatever it may be, you basically are just working from a very young age, you’re forced to grow up really fast,” she admits. “But luckily, I have an amazing family that’s always been very supportive and wonderful friends. I started also with Boo2Bullying at a pretty young age, and they’d been like my home away from home because all my family’s on the east coast.
With this incredible support network, Scerbo shares she has “been very aware of how important it is to find balance in everything you do.” This balance for her has come through attending her high school’s prom as a teen, taking college classes while on the set of “Make It or Break It,” pursuing the study of her family’s heritage language of Italian and through being increasingly involved for more than 10 years in the nonprofit organization Boo2Bullying.
“I was always involved in charity work and wanted to do that even from a young age. It was always so important to me to give back,” says Scerbo when speaking about her natural connection with Boo2Bullying. Around the time of the organization’s founding, she attended an event with a photographer who was also working with the freshly founded organization. She was recruited to be Boo2Bullying’s girl’s Youth Ambassador on the spot, a role she did not take lightly.
“I was always advocating for it, especially because I was playing a bully at the time,” she says. “It was really important for me to get involved not only to speak to those who were being bullied but also the bullies as well.” One of the organization’s mantras and one that Scerbo believes is “hurt people hurt people.”
Through direct outreach in schools, Boo2Bullying seeks to support all students and help those being bullied become resilient and realize that they are not alone. The organization also wants to help students engaging in bullying behavior confront what might be at the heart of their need to belittle others.
Scerbo has drawn inspiration in her work with Boo2Bullying from her character in “Make It or Break It,” Lauren Tanner, who “had so many issues that were causing her to lash out.” This helped Scerbo connect with students in schools as Boo2Bullying’s youth ambassador and allowed her to speak directly to bullies and try to get down to the root of their issues.
“So it was so important for me to speak to the people who are being bullied and say, ‘Hey, it’s not you, it’s them,’” Scerbo explains. “And to speak to the people who were bullying and saying, ‘What’s going on here? Let’s get down to the bottom of it. You’re clearly unhappy because happy people just don’t act that way.’”
Working with students while playing an on-screen mean girl truly helped her understand why some people act in specific ways and treat others so terribly. “I had so much compassion and passion toward the organization and for people who were feeling isolated and bullied, and I just wanted to put an end to it,” she says. “So I guess that drove me to continue to learn.”
Boo2Bullying has been a constant in Scerbo’s life for over a decade and reinforced for her that “with passion, you can make anything happen.” Putting an end to young people feeling isolated and bullied drove her to continue learning and working with the organization. Through their work, she and her Boo2Bullying colleagues have served many children and teenagers in the Southern California area and at schools in various metro areas across the United States.
They provide free educational programming through their website and even have a newer program called CAPE to reach the youngest students. CAPE is an acronym for “courage, appreciation, personal healthand education” for kindergarten through 3rd-grade children. “That’s where it starts, really,” she says. “It’s very foundational. You have to start them young.”
Boo Ball and Bullying Prevention Month
Of course, like any nonprofit organization, fundraising is incredibly important to support the cause. One of Boo2Bullying’s most prominent fundraising events is coming back for Bullying Prevention Month and also for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. The Boo Ball is their 3rd annual celebration and fundraiser, with the tagline “Summoning All Fashionistas of the Underworld.”
It promises to be a fun time with musical artists including Kid Baron, Grammy-nominated jazz singer/songwriter Chris Bennett and Jamie Miller on October 30 at the Palm Springs Air Museum, with an “orange carpet” from 6-10 p.m. Tickets start at US$125, but there are also six VIP areas with different Halloween themes. Of course, all proceeds go directly to supporting Boo2Bullying and their outreach.
While the theme is striking a balance between a Met Gala-style ball and a Halloween party, attendees are welcome to sport their spookiest attire, as there will be a costume contest. For those who will be in the Palm Springs or Los Angeles, California, areas at the end of the month, all COVID-safe protocols will be in place including a limited number of attendees and proof of vaccination or negative test required. There will also be a “Boo Ball Express” from Los Angeles to provide round trip transportation from LA to Palm Springs and back for the event. Of course, if you can’t make the event, you can always support Boo2Bullying by making a donation instead.
It’s time to talk about bullying
Cassie Scerbo and Boo2Bullying are making waves when it comes to bullying prevention and awareness in schools across the country. Like most people, Scerbo shares that the pandemic has had its ups and downs for her, including getting used to new realities and social distancing. But, despite the social distancing, it’s opened up a dialogue.
“I do feel like the reason we are having more of these conversations, and Boo2Bullying as well, on suicide and mental health and suicide prevention, is because of the pandemic,” says Scerbo. “Because people started to get real, and really came together during that time to help one another. It didn’t matter who you were, what walk of life, if you were famous or not – that’s not what mattered. We were all in it together. The whole world was in this together. We were stuck at home, dealing with a pandemic.
“If there’s one positive that came out of it, on social media, I do think it is the fact that everyone started to open up and start to destigmatize some things like mental health and get seeking therapy and whatever else it may be,” she points out.
You can catch Scerbo on big and small screens (and if you’re in the mood for something spooky, we recommend her 2017 flick “Truth or Dare”currently available on Netflix) or working with Boo2Bullying to help prevent and address bullying in schools.
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