COEUR d’ALENE — About 20 girls stood in front of bleachers packed with their peers.
They passed a microphone down the line and shared their “kind pledges” — pledges to not talk about their friends behind their backs, to think before they make remarks, to not judge people by the way they look, to keep love in their hearts because hate never wins.
These middle-school girls, of different heights, sizes, hair colors and fashion styles, bravely opened their hearts in front of their classmates and girls from other schools. Some couldn’t wait to share their pledges, while others broke into tears when their own experiences with bullying unexpectedly came flooding out.
"It was really moving just to see what they went through and what they will start to do because they know that it hurts people a lot," said Lakes Middle School eighth-grader Justice Birmingham. "There's a lot of people that have been bullied and really, really hurt. It makes me really sad that people treat each other like that."
It made filmmakers Molly Thompson and Lauren Paul really sad too. That's why about 10 years ago, the Pepperdine University film students traveled around the country to interview girls everywhere about the struggles of growing up in a world where girls seem to have a hard time being nice to each other. They recorded their conversations in the documentary "Finding Kind," which they presented to North Idaho's girls on Wednesday.
"We have all said and done things that have negatively affected other people," Paul said. "When you stop and think about that, there’s so much hope in that realization because you see that every single girl sitting here today has the power within themselves to create change in your school hallways and within your community simply by being conscious and thinking about things that you’re saying and doing on a daily basis."
Thompson and Paul were motivated to make this film because of their own experiences with mean girls when they were coming of age. They did not realize that 100 percent of those they would interview, from young girls to grandmothers, experienced some form of abuse from their fellow females.
And so the Kind Campaign was born.
"We feel so fortunate to have been on the forefront of this conversation because it is such an important one," Paul said. "Really for the first time in history, we're not accepting these experiences as a rite of passage, this thing we inherently go through just because we're girls. We're realizing we can really break that cycle that we've become a part of and unite in that experience instead and create change together."
While on the road collecting stories, Paul and Thompson engaged in meaningful, empathetic discourse with girls who have all experienced similar things: harassment, cyberbullying, humiliation, suicidal thoughts and attempts, gossip, jealousy, eating disorders, complete devastation of self-esteem and so many more negative consequences of girl-against-girl bullying.
In the "Finding Kind" documentary, various culprits that could lead to bullying were discussed, including social media, competitiveness between women on TV, cultural pressure, the media's representation of the "perfect" woman.
But Thompson and Paul made it clear to the young ladies that the problem — and the solution — begins with the individual.
“We are all in this together,” Paul said. "We’re not standing up here pointing the finger at anyone. Except ourselves, really."
At the end of the documentary, the students filled out their pledges, as well as "kind apologies" to tell someone they've hurt that they're sorry, and they filled out "kind cards" to lift up someone with their positive words.
Lakes eighth-grader Emma Lund said she was really touched by a scene of the film where a room of young women apologized to each other for treating one another poorly.
"They became friends again," she said. "It helped them bond more."
Rylee Duvall, also a Lakes eighth-grader, said something she will take away from this is "how to deal with people being bullied and how you can be such a better person and be kind in general."
"I think what will stick with me the most is that everyone’s going through something all the time and really, as cliché as it sounds like, never judge a book by its cover," she said.
Lakes English teacher Jeni Nelson leads the Kind Club at her school. She invited Paul and Thompson to speak in Coeur d'Alene and was overjoyed when Lakes was selected as one of the 40 schools the filmmakers would visit out of 300 that applied.
Nelson organized it at Lake City so Woodland and Canfield girls could attend too. She has been coordinating Kind Campaign activities every three years so all the girls who attend Lakes at some time in their middle school career see the film and share in the priceless knowledge that whatever they're going through, they're not alone.
“Every girl needs to hear this message," Nelson said.
A free screening of "Finding Kind" will be held at 6:45 tonight in the Hayden Discount Cinema, 300 W. Centa Drive, Hayden.