How a Family Friend Is Keeping Tyler Clementi's Memory Alive in His Fight to End Bullying: 'I Had to Do Something'
"His death had a huge impact on our family and our community," Christopher Rim tells PEOPLE
Perhaps one of the greatest tributes to
Tyler Clementi is from a family friend he only knew casually.
When the 18-year-old Rutgers University student jumped off the George Washington Bridge in 2010 after learning his college roommate filmed and posted a video of him kissing another man, Ellen DeGeneres, Madonna, and Monica Lewinsky were among the thousands that paid tribute to him and called for an end to bullying. But then 10th-grader Christopher Rim went beyond those efforts.
“[Tyler] was a family friend who was in orchestra with my brother,” Rim, who is a graduate of Academies @ Englewood in New Jersey, tells PEOPLE. “His death had a huge impact on our family and our community. I knew I had to do something to keep the conversation about bullying going within the community.”
Rim was a sophomore in high school when he founded the organization, It Ends Today. Its mission is to educate young people about the very real damages caused by bullying.
“When we first launched in 2010, we had about 18 volunteers from my high school and we traveled to nearby middle and high schools to talk about the importance of bystander intervention and anti-bullying. It was truly a grass roots effort,” says Rim, now 21. “The organization currently operates 26 chapters across six countries and has over 350 active volunteers. We reached over 1.8M students since we started!”
Many credit the success with the structure of the presentations that begins with a five-minute video where a student is explaining the horrific impact of bullying. When the video ends and the lights go on, the video’s featured student is standing on the stage, ready to lead the discussion about bullying.
“Once we started doing presentations, others noticed and asked for the presentation to be done at their schools,” says Rim. “It’s built on peer-to-peer education. At first, a lot of people disagreed with the method I used. No research backed it up. There was no data. But unlike most academics and researchers, I had the opportunity to visit and talk to students at schools where there was bullying and see that this made a difference.”
Natali Taglic was a sophomore in high school when she saw bullying as a growing problem in her community. She she decided to bring the organization to her all-girl high school in Demarest, New Jersey.
“I went to a chapter meeting and just loved what they were doing,” says Taglic, now 21, whose family emigrated from Croatia. “I talked to the person in charge and [my school administrators]. Right away, everyone was so interested to start the organization at our school.”
Many students were initially hesitant to admit they were bullied, but once they attended the student-run meetings, they were more open to sharing and working toward resolutions.
Sasha Von Shats heard about It Ends Today in her New Jersey high school.
“I used to be bullied and I couldn’t wait to get involved in It Ends Today,” says Von Shats. “There was a lot of cyberbullying and a lot of kids committing suicide. I could relate and wanted to be part of it.”
Von Shats started a mini chapter at her school and became involved in everything from recruiting speakers to fundraising.
“We traveled everywhere between New Jersey and California. We even did an assembly in Orlando when we were sophomore and we were the only kids there,” she said. “We were with teachers, police officers and others who wanted to talk about how to stop bullying.”
Working on It Ends Today helped Von Shats admit to her mother that she had morphed from outgoing to sullen because of bullying.
“It Ends Today taught me how to be myself and go beyond bullying,” she said. “When I graduated from high school, I lost a bunch of weight and became very outgoing again….That’s because of what I learned from It Ends Today.”
And Von Shats spread that message to others, including students in elementary school. One of the most effective activities was asking each student to crumple a piece of paper. Then students were instructed to apologize to the paper and attempt to smooth it out.
“We showed them that despite the apologies, the paper was still damaged. The apology didn’t do anything to change that,” she said. “I remember one little girl doing that and having her voice get very shaky and her eyes become watery. She was a bully in the class. It was very touching to see that she really understood our message.”
When Rim entered Yale University, where he’s majoring in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience, he was concerned It Ends Today would stall. His work with the researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence allowed him to conduct research and gather data, which he used to strengthen his nonprofit and bring it under the Facebook’s new project, InspirED. Other members of the online community to help high school students and educators work together to bolster learning communities include Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Foundation.”
“His success can be measured a bunch of ways,” says Seth Wallace, project coordinator of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “If you just think of the impact on kids at these schools, you can see it goes up and up. He has accomplished something really big with It Ends Today.”