At New York City's Lab School for Collaborative Studies, senior Lena Jacobs owns that she can ride a unicycle. After years of trying to hide his disability, her classmate Bryan Stromer owns that he has cerebral palsy. Future Project
fellow Tim Shriver, the school’s "dream director"—whose job it is to challenge and support students in putting their dreams into action—owns that he has his head in the clouds.
In February this year, the three helped kick off “Own It,”
a campaign to encourage students and staff to embrace individuality and end bullying. Walk down the school’s hallways you’ll find questions on the walls such as: What makes you weird? What’s your wildest dream? What’s your greatest failure? What makes you you
“Have you ever been in a classroom and the teachers would ask you what animal you’d be and why? You’d always hear people say a lion, tiger, or some other really strong animal. I remember I once heard this girl say she’d be a pig because she could roll around in the mud and not care what people think of her. That’s such a positive thing—why can’t we all do that?” Bryan says. “Own It is a nicer way of saying, 'Be a pig.' ”
Last fall, the idea for Own It starting taking shape. With Lab being a relatively quirky school (students are asked on a daily basis to plot their feelings on a mood meter, for example), Tim would talk with students and Future Project Fellows about how to create a shared identity. At the same time, Bryan and Lena started thinking about how it could tie in with their work with the Stand Up to Bullying club, which Bryan cofounded three years ago.
“A lot of people are scared of the word ‘bully.’ They think you either have to identify as a bully, or be the one who is bullied, and they don’t want to identify with either one of those sides,” Bryan says. “Own It is really positive and creates an environment where bullying isn’t going to be an issue because everyone is going to be comfortable being who they are. So they don’t have to worry about someone picking on their vulnerabilities.”
Now, students and staff say Own It as part of their vocabulary. The pledge everyone signed at the launch to celebrate their uniqueness is up in the hallway, along with a myriad of confessions: fear of being locked in a coffin, love of Bugs Bunny, and dreams of traveling the world, among others. The campaign’s Instagram account
is updated daily.
The hope is that the idea will spread to students in other schools throughout New York and beyond—because, in the end, the spirit of Own It is about more than bullying. “The people who can say where they are most vulnerable are the ones who rock this world. If you look at history, you see it. You look at this school, you see it,” Tim says. “This is the opportunity we have. Not only to say you can stop bullying, but that this is the way to make you the most powerful person you can possibly be.”