“I’m excited to hear experts from a wide range of fields speak on what they’ve learned about building kind communities and how we can all work together to support the resilience of young people.”Maya Enista Smith, Born This Way Foundation Executive Director
Over 80 speakers and 650 attendees from 18 countries will come together November 7-9 in Chicago for the 2019 IBPA Conference. The theme of this year’s event is “Kindness & Compassion: Building Healthy Communities.” Few organizations have done more to spread and raise awareness to the importance of kindness than Born This Way Foundation.
Born This Way Foundation is a nonprofit, co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, that was created in 2012 with the goal of “creating a kinder and braver world.” Among their many programs centered around kindness, Born This Way recently partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health to bring teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) to the US. Born This Way Foundation also launched Channel Kindness, which is a kindness platform that invites young people to share and spread instances of kindness to others around the world.
On November 9, Born This Way Foundation’s Executive Director Maya Enista Smith will give a keynote address to IBPA Conference attendees, titled, “Cultivating Kindness to Support Mental Health.” We reached out to Maya as part of the new IBPA 2019 Presenter Interview Series to learn more about her upcoming talk, Born This Way’s efforts, and the importance of kindness. “From my talk, I hope attendees take away that kindness and mental wellness go hand in hand,” says Maya.
When asked about how schools can make mental health a priority, Maya shares:
“Schools can make mental health a priority by providing students opportunities to express how they’re feeling and encouraging teachers to open the line of communication with their students to further eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. It is also important for young people to understand the importance of self-care, so implementing wellness clubs, nutrition classes, after-school yoga, and or meditation groups, would be a helpful start.”
Ready to bring kindness to your school and help improve the mental health of your students? Read the full interview transcript below, and make sure to attend Maya Enista Smith’s keynote address at 11:15 AM on Saturday. View the full agenda here and register for the 2019 IBPA Conference here.
Maya Enista Smith Interview Transcript
Question: Why did you choose to present at the 2019 IBPA Conference in Chicago?
Maya Enista Smith: The theme of this year’s 16th annual International Bullying Prevention Association’s conference is “Kindness and Compassion,” and those are the exact themes that drive Born This Way Foundation’s work and are practiced through our programming every single day. We’re excited to share what we’ve learned about kindness, how it impacts our wellbeing, and how we can additionally use this knowledge to better equip young people with the resources they need to support themselves and ultimately build a kinder and braver world.
Question: At the event, what are you most looking forward to?
MES: I’m excited to hear experts from a wide range of fields speak on what they’ve learned about building kind communities and how we can all work together to support the resilience of young people.
Question: What will you be speaking about and what do you hope attendees will take away from your talk?
MES: I will be talking about the transformational power of kindness and how nurturing kindness in schools, workplaces, and communities helps to support the wellbeing of individuals and provides the tools for communities to thrive. From my talk, I hope attendees take away that kindness and mental wellness go hand in hand. You simply cannot have one without the other. I’m proud to share my experiences both as the Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation and a mother, talking to my two children about this every day.
Question: What role does mental health play in bullying prevention?
MES: People are often unkind to others when they don’t know how to be kind to themselves. If we can model and cultivate kindness, self-care, and healthy mental health habits, then people are more likely to express their negative feelings, such as jealousy, sadness, insecurity, and anger – emotions that often result in bullying – in healthier ways that don’t hurt others or result in putting their peers down.
Question: What is the most significant issue schools and students face in terms of preventing bullying?
MES: As stated before, when someone isn’t feeling their best self, they tend to take it out on others. Hurt people hurt people. So in order to prevent bullying, there needs to be opportunities for students to explore why they’re feeling hurt and to explore why they aren’t feeling their best selves.
Question: Should mental health be a more significant focus in the education of youth, and if so, how would you recommend schools tackle this challenging subject?
MES: School is the place where young people spend eight hours of their day, and sometimes, it’s the only place where they can learn about mental health, so it’s vital that schools provide the resources and tools for students to learn about the topic. Schools can make mental health a priority by providing students opportunities to express how they’re feeling and encouraging teachers to open the line of communication with their students to further eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. It is also important for young people to understand the importance of self-care, so implementing wellness clubs, nutrition classes, after-school yoga, and or meditation groups, would be a helpful start.
Question: What positive changes would you expect to happen in a school that is able to decrease bullying and increase mental health awareness while supporting the mental health of students?
MES: A school that’s able to decrease bullying and support mental wellness would result in a stronger and more supportive peer-to-peer networks in which young people feel confident being who they are, higher mental health inventory scores, and decreased feelings of depression among its students. With increased mental health awareness, we would also expect the stigma around mental health to be reduced, meaning students would feel empowered talking openly and honestly to their teachers and peers about their emotions and feel more comfortable asking for help.
Question: What is the importance of compassion in schools? How can schools facilitate a compassionate culture?
MES: Compassion, like kindness, can be the difference between a student feeling confident and comfortable in who they are and feeling ashamed in who they are. With compassion comes the appreciation of differences and the understanding that despite these differences, we all share the same core struggles. Schools can help to facilitate a compassionate culture by exposing students to diverse speakers, literature, and documentaries, encouraging students to learn about cultures and perspectives different from their own, and reinforcing the idea that we are all more alike than unalike.
Question: What research does Born This Way Foundation rely on to guide your efforts?
MES: Born This Way Foundation puts young people at the focus of our research because we believe that their voice is vital to paving the way toward a kinder and braver world. We do not want to move forward without their perspective, input, and ideas. Our research revolves around kindness and how it relates to mental wellness; relationships between young people, their peers, and their parents; how accessible, reliable, and transparent mental health resources are in their schools and their communities; and what kind of innovations young people want to improve in the mental health system. You can read more about our research at our website bornthisway.foundation.
Question: What should everyone know about the importance of kindness?
MES: In a world in which we are overwhelmed with news of tragedy, discrimination, and hate, kindness is the ultimate antidote and provides the opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, in someone’s life. It has tangible benefits for both the giver and the receiver, including feelings of increased mood, calmness and decreased feelings of loneliness and depression, but ultimately, it gives us the feeling we all so desperately crave in today’s world – hope. At the Foundation, we work to counterbalance the negative narratives that dominate the media and inspire this hope in communities with Channel Kindness, a digital storytelling platform in which young people report on the everyday and extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion that shape our communities. We invite you to share your story and check out our submission guidelines at ChannelKindness.org!
Question: What tips do you have for schools working to create a positive school climate/culture?
MES: Ultimately, young people want to go to school in a safe place where they are supported and feel like they belong. In order for schools to create a positive climate, schools should directly ask and encourage their students to get involved in the process. Young people know their school best, they know their age group the best, meaning they would know what motivates young people and what they want in their schools. The more young people are involved in the brainstorming process, the more they’ll want to participate in the activities, after-school groups, and clubs that promote a positive school environment.
Question: Any final thoughts for fellow presenters and attendees who will join you at the 2019 IBPA Conference?
MES: We are so grateful to be at the IBPA Conference this year, especially with a theme that resonates so closely to the heart of Born This Way Foundation; and we’re so excited to share research, exchange ideas, engage in constructive conversations, and work together to so that we can be one step closer to making the world a kinder and braver place. Please join our community online at @btwfoundation.