Joy Steiner knew she needed to help put a stop to bullying when her teenage son was threatened through Facebook by his peers.
Steiner, 34, said she eventually had to get police involved because the abuse was so bad.
“It’s a real issue,” she said. “There’s nothing more important than how we treat each other.”
Steiner was one of about 300 people who attended an anti-bullying rally on Bo Diddley Community Plaza Wednesday. A march along University Avenue to the plaza preceded the rally.
The Unity Day Rally, which was coordinated by the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, focused on finding practical ways to stop bullying and unite the community.
Mayor Craig Lowe, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and Alachua County School Board member Eileen Roy were among the featured speakers.
Lowe said it’s unfortunate that students are bullied about race and sexual orientation.
“Bullying is cruel, harmful and detracts from the wealth of human resources in Gainesville,” he said in an interview. “We, in Gainesville, value every human being. We want to affirm that today.”
Newberry High School freshman Brandi Gallo, 14, said teenagers can take steps to stop bullying in schools.
“If you see something happening, don’t just ignore it,” she said.
Event organizer Heart Phoenix said she was proud to see Gainesville residents come together for this cause.
“They’re standing up instead of standing by,” she said.
Phoenix, who is also the board president of River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, said both bullies and victims suffer when the issue is ignored.
“Bullying is a learned behavior, and it can be unlearned,” she said.
Joie, a 20-year-old artist, sings “Love Me Like I Do” to a crowd of about 300 at the Unite Against Bullying rally Wednesday evening.