Words can hurt and words can heal.
That was the message imparted to Evans Middle eighth-graders by The Fat Boy Chronicles author Michael Buchanan during a Thursday assembly.
Buchanan started his anti-bullying presentation by asking pupils if they wanted to be heroes. Nearly all raised their hands.
At the conclusion of the lecture, Buchanan told them it takes just 30 seconds to become a hero.
In many schools, Buchanan said, there are bullies, those who are bullied and those who stand by and watch.
"It's not very difficult to say to your friend, 'Hey, that's not cool. Don't do that,' " he said when talking about ways to stop bullying at school.
Don't condone bullying by allowing it to go unchecked, he said.
Buchanan read to pupils a newspaper article from January about a 15-year-old obese girl who killed herself.
Following her death, some students came forward and told authorities that the girl had been teased for months by her classmates, some using text messages and comments on such social networking Web sites such as Facebook.
"No one stepped up for her," Buchanan said. "She had to fend off all these people by herself until she couldn't take it anymore."
In his book and film, which he co-wrote with Diane Lang, the Atlanta native's central character is Jimmy, a teen verbally tortured by his peers for being obese.
A few years ago, during a book signing in Cincinnati for a previous novel, Buchanan said he met a man who told him about his son, Doug Hennig.
In a video message Buchanan played to students, Doug told the story of how as a child he took off his shirt during a soccer game and immediately was berated by other players for his pudgy physique.
The incident so scarred him mentally that he lost 40 pounds during the summer after his eighth-grade year. Now a junior in college, he has kept the weight off.
Those accosting Doug probably considered their remarks harmless and in "good fun," said Buchanan.
"Those (words) are just as powerful as you taking a knife and slicing (someone)," he said. "It leaves a scar on their hearts."
Doug was the inspiration for Jimmy and The Fat Boy Chronicles , which will undergo a national book release in July. A film version of the story was shot last year near Atlanta, but Buchanan was unsure when it will be distributed.
Though the film might be released to theaters, Buchanan said it is possible it could be televised and followed with a town hall meeting on bullying and childhood obesity.
For information on the book and movie, visit www.thefatboychronicles.com.
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