Speaking out for those who can't

A group of mostly San Clemente High School students received affirmative honks and the occasional "woo-hoo" late Friday afternoon in Laguna Beach as they protested bullying.

Members of the Cool 2 Be Kind Club stood in a line along Coast Highway at Main Beach holding signs that read "No Reason To Be Mean," "For Those Who Don't Have a Voice" and "End the Hate."

The group hoped to raise awareness of an issue that National Assn. of People Against Bullying board member Dezra Anderson said has expanded beyond the schoolyard.

"[Bullying] follows you home; you can't get away from it," Anderson said. "It's more in your face and constant."

Repeated bullying is what Anna and Danny Mendez believe led their 16-year-old son, San Clemente High student Daniel Mendez, to commit suicide in 2009.

In response to Daniel's death, his parents formed NAPAB, a nonprofit that offers services such as in-person meetings, phone calls and written correspondence in an effort to intervene on behalf of bullied children, the organization's website says.

Bullies have taken to today's technology, using Facebook and text messages to demean their victims, according to Anderson.

This is the second straight year the Cool 2 Be Kind Club, which NAPAB supports, has rallied against bullying in Laguna Beach.

The gathering has been welcomed in the city, a more northerly location than San Clemente — where the Cool 2 Be Kind Club is based — to help draw people from north Orange County, said Anna Mendez, NAPAB's executive director.

"People have to understand [bullying] is a big problem and it's never OK," said Cool 2 Be Kind Club president Victoria Mendez, Daniel's younger sister, while speaking into a megaphone to about 50 gatherers at Main Beach.

The group then marched south along Coast Highway to Legion Street, then turned around and walked back to Main Beach.

Several club members wore T-shirts with the words "I've got your back" printed on them.

"This is for everyone to realize they're not alone," Brenden Kim said as he strolled along Coast Highway with the rest of the group.

Kim, Daniel's best friend, helped start the club four years ago.

"Daniel didn't realize it wasn't him," Kim said. "It was imprinted on his brain that everything was his fault. He was a kind-hearted guy."

Bullying causes depression, anxiety, physical ailments, loss of self-esteem, misdirected anger at family or friends and self-hatred, and it can ultimately lead to suicide, according to the NAPAB website.

Bullied children are three times more likely to harm themselves or commit suicide, it said.

"We believe all children deserve protection from harassment, abuse and ridicule, not just certain protected classes, but all children, regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation," the website said. "We believe bullying, ridicule and physical harm are perpetrated primarily on the peace-loving children who are reluctant to fight back, the very children that our society deems to hold in esteem. Yet these are the very children being targeted on the school grounds today."

The Laguna Beach Unified School District has a policy that addresses bullying and consequences for perpetrators.

"No student or group of students shall, through physical, written, verbal or other means, harass, sexually harass, threaten, intimidate, cyberbully, cause bodily injury to or commit hate violence against any other student or school personnel," according to the district's policy.

"Any student who engages in bullying on school premises or off campus in a manner that causes or is likely to cause a substantial disruption of a school activity or school attendance, shall be subject to discipline, which may include suspension or expulsion, in accordance with district policies and regulations."

Anna Mendez hopes events such as Friday's rally will spur the public to action against bullying and the great harm it can cause.

"[Bullying] is much more than a local issue," she said.

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