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Preventing bullying

January 9, 2011

EAST PROVIDENCE — Riverside native Kevin Robinson abhors very few things in life, and what tops the list is seeing people treating others unfairly, being unkind just for the sake of humor or self-promotion.
The same goes for those who choose not to live by the “Golden Rule” — that is, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That was the crystal-clear message the eight-time X Games' BMX aerial trickster and best pal Chris Poulos delivered to over 1,800 East Providence High students in their gymnasium on Friday morning.
He and Poulos — at 39 a national and world champion in BMX flatland events, not to mention a nationally-ranked marathoner — entitled their program simply “Bullying Prevention/Living a Positive Lifestyle.”
“I think this is so necessary in the world we live in now,” Robinson noted as he signed dozens of autographs and had photos taken with inquisitive juniors and seniors following the 80-minute session. “People need to be shown that hard work and perseverance pays off. It can lead you to a positive lifestyle.
“You look at all the negative things on TV, the negative media that's out there, and it drives me crazy; I don't like all that negative stuff,” he added. “I think we impacted these kids here. If I can get through to just two kids, then I've done my job. Like I said, being nice can have a snowball effect. If a few kids spread the word of having a positive attitude, it'll become contagious. I believe being nice boosts everyone's spirits.”
The two champions opened the power-point presentation (they previously had addressed all freshmen and sophomore Townies) with one adage both have utilized for decades — “Dream Your Life, Then Live Your Dream.”
“I want to talk to you about bullying, and tell you that it's NOT OK to treat someone badly,” stated Robinson, his right arm still in a sling due to nine shoulder dislocations and four surgeries the past several months. “For those of you who have been bullied, it's going to get better, I promise you.”
Poulos admitted he found it fascinating to observe differences in humans, that such diversity makes the world go 'round.
“Being different is kind of cool, actually,” said Poulos, also Robinson's business partner and one who works closely with Robinson's K-ROB Foundation, which provides financial support for young E.P. athletes and families who may not be able to afford participation. “What if we were all the same, and wore a white T-shirt, jeans, white sneakers? Wouldn't that be boring?”


They quickly displayed a video of a young teen named Tyler, a student who suffered from Asperger's, a mild form of autism.
Tyler's mom stated those with Asperger's need consistency, as they're very regimented. She claimed if someone talked in his class, her son would say to schoolmates, “You're not supposed to do that. That's the rule.”
The boy, she revealed, soon became sullen, and wasn't the fun-loving, outgoing boy she raised. She said it was a result of the bullying Tyler had endured.
One morning during his junior year, the video noted, Tyler donned his favorite shirt and jeans, grabbed his belt and hung himself from the top of his bedroom closet.
“His parents have to live with the fact they had lost their child forever,” Robinson explained to the audience, now hushed. “This is happening in alarming numbers, and it's because kids aren't being treated the way they should be. Your first impression of somebody can stay with you your whole life.”
Robinson himself was bullied as a child and teen. Neighborhood kids teased him because he always rode his bike, doing tricks. He didn't take part in many mainstream sports, as he adored being on two wheels and pushing himself to create more difficult maneuvers.
“I was thought of as weird because I rode BMX, which wasn't real popular then,” he said. “I remember a guy came up to me two years ago at an event, and he said, 'Hey, Kev! How's it going? You were great! That was terrific!' I was thinking, 'Uh-uh.' He was one of the guys who used to bully me. I remembered what he did to me. Do you want to be remembered that way?”
Poulos recalled the time he attended a BMX event, and had watched in awe as two guys juggled boomerangs and hula hoops. He approached the boomerang expert to tell him how impressed he was with their precision, and the man told him to try to throw one through a hoop held by his juggling partner.
“It went the wrong way, and I ended up hitting someone in the head,” he offered. “When I was competing later, some people in the audience yelled, 'Hey, boomerang guy! Who else you gonna hit?' It affected me so much, I took last place.
“On the plane heading home, I decided if I ever saw someone make a mistake, I would support him,” he continued. “I knew how it felt, and I didn't like it … How many times have you guys made a mistake, and then someone laughed at you, embarrassed you? You didn't like it, either, did you?”
Stated Robinson: “If you see someone being picked on, step up and say something. There's nothing wrong with that, because you know that behavior is wrong.”


At that point, the tandem asked for four volunteers from the audience, and Robinson pretended to be a new kid in school. The volunteers stood by Poulos, who then exhibited the way to treat such a student.
As he looked at his “friends,” he stated, “Hey, that kid dyed his hair, and he looks alright. Let's go talk to him.” The volunteers followed, and they began conversing. Poulos asked if Robinson if he was new to the school, and the latter replied, “Yeah, I'm a senior, and have been for 20 years.” That remark made the volunteers — and those watching from the bleachers — roar with laughter.
Robinson shook the four volunteers' hands, stating each time, “Hi, I'm Kevin!” He then told all the importance of making eye contact when shaking hands, and that he stated his name so often because that's a tool to help them remember it.
“If you've got fear inside you, the more you push through it, the easier it becomes,” he said.
He then introduced the ingredients to making what he calls “The Nice Snowball.” Among them: Be kind to others; make new friends; don't bully anyone; trust; face your fears; hard work, perseverance; and working together.
“If you do good things, good things will happen,” he mentioned. “If you do negative things, then negative things will occur. If you're nice to teachers, chances are outstanding they'll be nice back … It all works together.”
While discussing trust, the duo asked for three teacher volunteers, and had them lay near midcourt. When Poulos — riding his bike — asked students if anyone owed these teachers any homework, the crowd giggled again.
Robinson told all he usually performs such a trick, but couldn't because of his injured shoulder, so Poulos would take over. Poulos then pedaled mightily around the gym, then took aim at a leap over the prone instructors. He immediately jumped off the bike and hurdled over them legs first.
When he tried it again, this time with his 20-inch two-wheeler, he succeeded, and the onlookers applauded mightily.
“I trusted Chris, even though he's a 'flatlander,' and the teachers trusted him to perform the trick,” Robinson smiled. “That's what I mean by trust, and overcoming fear … People have asked me if I was afraid at the top of a ramp, and I was, like, 'Heck, yeah!' But I also was driven to do something I hadn't done before.
“When it comes to hard work, how many of you have come to school and crammed in 'homeroom' because you didn't study?” he asked, several students raising their hands. “I know I used to do it, but don't you feel better when you put the work in? Chris does a flatland run for hours and hours to get it as close to perfection as he possibly can.”
Robinson explained his own desire to depict perseverance. He admitted he tried for months to nail a trick he named the “Double Flair,” two backward somersaults with a half-twist.
“I had people tell me I couldn't do it, that it was impossible; I tried really hard, and kept crashing,” he offered. “I had a bulging disk in my back and a fractured elbow.”
Another video showed him at a competition, falling hard to the wood. The next displayed him succeeding, and Robinson indicated, “Besides my wife and kids, that trick is the best thing to ever happen to me. Winning gold medals doesn't mean anything compared to the feeling of completing that trick. Everything I set out to accomplish, I go for it.”


They finished the assembly with the phrase “Working Together.”
Robinson talked about having to travel to Pennsylvania to train, as a site there had outstanding facilities, but he always had promised himself he would return to his hometown one day and develop an organization to help others.
He mentioned the East Providence Mohawks youth football squad recently winning the regional title, but needed financial aid getting to the national championships in Orlando, Fla. He went to a practice at Pierce Field in December, and brought along dear friend and former Patriots' linebacker Tedy Bruschi to deliver checks for approximately $5,000.
“Just being able to do nice things for people is a lot better than being mean to them,” he said. “Those kids' jaws dropped when I walked up with Tedy. I mean, we're all Townies here, and you've got to support your peers. We've all got to try to make this city would it should be.”
Robinson asked a volunteer named Brendan to hold his helmet, and to hand it to him. The caveat: He told him he couldn't move. The boy seemed puzzled when Robinson stepped back 10 feet, and he said, “I can't.” A classmate from the audience yelled, “Ask for help!” and the champions were thrilled. Three more students took the floor, and passed the helmet to each other, then to Robinson.
In the end, Robinson told the kids to scream, “Dream Your Life, Then Live Your Dream” three times. They didn't need to be asked twice.
“I got a lot out of this,” said senior Frank Allen. “It gave me a sense of motivation, and being friendly to those in school. That's something we need to get us going. I think this will motivate me for the rest of the year. It showed me hard work and perseverance pays off.”
Stated classmate Derek Andreoli: “I think everybody saw what those two did, and they've raised the spirit of the school. Being friendly to others just makes sense. They explained if you want to enjoy the rest of your life, you've got to be open-minded.”
Freshman Adrianna Dilibero met Robinson at the E.P. Heritage Festival last summer, and was intrigued by his mindset then.
“He's an awesome guy, and I agree that people need to be nicer,” she smiled. “Everyone needs to accept people for who they are.”
A friend approached her, and she immediately said, “Let's be snowballs!”
When told of that gesture, Robinson grinned, “That's music to my ears.”
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