2 men, trekking from Chicago to New York, walk against bullying

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A little more than halfway through their 921-mile, 37-day walk from Chicago to New York, Elliot Dal Pra London and Ronnie Kroell have hit their stride.

"We were in terrible shape for Day 2," said Mr. London, a 32-year-old filmmaker from Los Angeles, who was on his second pair of shoes as he walked through Prospect in Butler County Wednesday. "You can't prepare to walk on concrete for 30 miles a day."

Mr. London and Mr. Kroell, 30, an actor and model who also lives in Los Angeles, are making the trek this month during National Bullying Prevention Month to honor the memories of teens driven to suicide by bullying and to raise awareness of the problem.

They are co-founders of the Friend Movement, a multimedia effort that promotes self-confidence, friendship and self-empowerment in an attempt to prevent people from becoming bullies and keep their victims from being driven to drastic lengths such as suicide to escape the torment.

Along the way, they are tying purple ribbons every mile or so in honor of victims of bullying. Mr. London and Mr. Kroell also have been posting video encounters with the people they meet along the way to broadcast the prevalence of bullying and its effects.

"Everyone has a bullying story, and people want to share their stories," Mr. Kroell said.

The pair will be in the Pittsburgh area until Sunday before heading east. Today, they will be at the Carnegie Science Center, 1 Allegheny Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. with a camera crew to capture stories about bullying, which will be compiled into a documentary at the end of the trip.

"We want to invite people from the Pittsburgh community to come by and dedicate ribbons and tell us their stories," Mr. London said. "We're so happy to be in Pennsylvania. We were looking forward to Pittsburgh so much. ... We felt like this is going to be the state with the most incredible stories."

The Friend Movement was launched in the wake of the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge Sept. 22, 2010, days after his dormitory roommate spied on a sexual encounter between him and another man using a remote webcam and tweeted about the incident. The roommate, Dharun Ravi, was later sentenced to 30 days in jail after he was convicted of invasion of privacy and other charges. Mr. Ravi denied that the incident had anything to do with Clementi's sexuality, although the case drew national media attention and triggered a debate about gay bias and cyber-bullying.

Mr. London was in Kentucky making a film at the time of Clementi's suicide.

"I heard about this kid taking his own life. It finally validated for a lot of people that bullying is a real issue," he said. "It's not a fad. It's a real, tangible thing we have to talk about."

Their walk, which began Oct. 5 at Millennium Park in Chicago, ends Nov. 10 at the George Washington Bridge, where there will be a candlelight vigil for Clementi and other victims of bullying. It is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a national nonprofit arts-service organization. Funds raised along the way, including by buying and dedicating the purple ribbons, will help cover the expenses associated with the walk while any additional proceeds will go to the Tyler Clementi Foundation, Mr. London said.

"We're hoping people will meet us on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge and walk across," Mr. Kroell said. Both men, who are openly gay, say they experienced bullying growing up -- Mr. Kroell in Chicago and Mr. London in Rockford, Ill.

"I think we were both just awkward kids," Mr. London said, adding that he was tormented on the school bus. "To this day, I hate buses."

The project, however, is focused on "all walks of life," he said, not just the LGBT community.

"We live in a country that talks about being individuals. ... The beauty of this country is we are diverse and it should be celebrated," Mr. Kroell said.

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.


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