Snapshot: Youth Council Rallies Mass. Against Bullying

October 22, 2013

One Simple Question

In 2007, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was in the midst of what headlines called “an epidemic of violence,” with homicide rates approaching the highest levels in a decade. More than half of all gun violence victims were under the age of 21.

Governor Deval Patrick wanted to understand why and how to fix this, so he reached out to members of the community for their input. In a conversation with the B.O.L.D. Teen, a community organizing group in Dorchester, Mass, one young member asked the governor a simple question: “Why don’t you have a body of youth, like a youth council, to represent all of Massachusetts youth?”

With that, Governor Patrick returned to his office and gave his staff the task of working with local youth to create the first-ever Massachusetts Governor’s Statewide Youth Council to advise him and his administration directly.

In April 2008, the Governor signed the Executive Order creating the council. In September of that year, the first group of 28 youth ages 14 to 20 was sworn in by the Governor to represent their peers and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the Council.

The Council began focusing on a variety of issues impacting Massachusetts’ youth like civic engagement. In 2010, the Council collectively decided to turn their focus on youth safety; the Council members saw it as priority in their lives and believe that young people themselves can be the solution.

The Council began by addressing violence and bullying where it often starts: in schools. Not only was it an issue with national attention, but they also saw a connection between bullying in schools and youth violence on the streets. Learning to be kind to each other and respect their peers was the first step in protecting each other. So, they hit the ground running to address bullying in their districts.

In 2010, the Council partnered with local and statewide organizations to advocate for the passing of the Act Relative to Bullying in Schools bill, a statewide anti-bullying bill that implements public bullying prevention programs and plans in all schools, requires immediate reporting of bullying to school leaders and instructs leaders on how to address reports—none of which were required in Massachusetts schools before this law. Youth council members made direct calls to legislators. With their help, the bill was passed, and signed into law by the Governor on May 3, 2010. 

The law also established statewide events to address bullying, including “No Name Calling Day” to be held annually on the fourth Wednesday of January.

“Black Out” Bullying

In 2012, the Massachusetts Governor’s Statewide Youth Council took the lead to implement No Name Calling Day. Youth council members engaged school districts around the state, working with superintendents and youth organizations to encourage students to wear black to school that day to show their support to “black out bullying” and sign pledges to take stands against bullying and name-calling.

Youth Council members also held forums—including one in Salem, Mass. with Governor Patrick himself—convening elementary and middle school students to discuss bullying and solutions during lunch hours.

The Council wanted to still do more to address bullying and youth safety in their communities, building on these events.  So they organized the Black Out Bullying Rally in October of 2012.

The Council hosted a public screening of BULLY, Lee Hirsch’s groundbreaking 2011 documentary of bullying in schools, and led a collective walk across the Boston Common to the Massachusetts State House to hold a rally against bullying.

The rally brought Governor Patrick, Secretary of Education Paul Reville and other special guests together with young people from all over the state to shine a spotlight on the ways that bullying impacts youth across Massachusetts.

“The Black Out Bullying rally was one of the most successful projects because it was an opportunity to bring young people from across the Commonwealth together to discuss issue that is alive not just locally but nationally,” says Anny Jean-JacquesDomercant, Director of Community Affairs at the Governor’s Office.  “The rally sparked dialogue and sparked emotion—that’s what giving youth voice a chance is all about.”

What’s Next?

Bullying and violence prevention remain priorities for the Massachusetts Statewide Youth Council. This year, as every year, members will coordinate directly with the Governor to identify other areas of work. Each class is presented with the Governor’s priorities and then asked to rank those topics in order of importance to them and their peers across the state.  That ranking helps define the focus of the council’s projects and ensure that they’re aligned with statewide efforts already in place.

The Youth Council's PSA for Black Out Bullying

2008: Governor Patrick swears in the first class of the Governor's Statewide Youth Council

About the Massachusetts Governor’s Statewide Youth Council

The Massachusetts Governor’s Statewide Youth Council was formed in 2008 through an Executive Order by Governor Deval Patrick. Twenty-eight young leaders—two representatives from each of the Commonwealth's 14 counties—serve two-year terms on the council, speaking on behalf of their communities. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Governor's Office of Community Affairs oversee council meetings and activities. The group meets bimonthly as a council and also with the Governor to brainstorm and launch initiatives. Check out the Council's website >>


This snapshot is part of SparkAction's Youth Impact series, short profiles of youth councils and commissions that are influencing local and state policies and practices. SparkAction is producing this series in partnership with the youth-led Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council and with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

To suggest an impact story, please contact Caitlin Johnson, managing editor, at caitlin@sparkaction.org.