Former Wheeling resident Michael Anthony Nalepa knows what it's like to be bullied. He was a self-described "limp-wristed, overweight drama dork with imperfect skin and a pleather fanny pack" at Wheeling High School in his teens. Today he is a successful actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles, and the force behind the "anonymoUS initiative," an international nonprofit campaign dedicated to helping people of all ages, races and orientations overcome what bullies them through art and activism.
Anthony (who dropped his last name) will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Indian Trails Library, 355 Schoenbeck Road, Wheeling, on the groundswell of the "anonymoUS initiative;" his book, "anthology of anonymoUS;" and the documentary "For Billy," scheduled for release in 2013. Admission is free, no registration is required.
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"I returned to Wheeling in 2011," he says, "to film an inspirational anti-bullying documentary for local gay teens. My goal was to capture their stories of high school homophobia on film, start a dialogue about LGBTQ equality in the community and ultimately convince bullied gay teens that it does get better." Anthony found that while a few teens were willing to publicly share their experiences about being bullied, most did not want to speak openly about the bullying they endured.
"I began emailing them -- nothing wordy, inspirational or preachy; just a simple question in the subject line: "What is it that bullies you?" he says.
"I wasn't sure if they'd respond; however they did -- by the hundreds! And not only were the replies coming from Wheeling's gay teens -- but also from their parents, their siblings, their straight friends and classmates," he says. "Some of these letters were pages long; others were only a single word or a poem or a drawing. But one thing they all had in common was an author trying to make sense out of the senseless in their life." From these emails the "anonymoUS initiative" was born.
Anthony has received thousands of letters and emails from around the country since sending that first email to Wheeling teens. His "anthology of anonymoUS" is a collection of 99 of these confessions. He published them exactly as received and as written by their authors because "the things that bully us may be unique, but the scars they leave behind are universal ... and even when life leaves us feeling anonymous, we are never alone."
For information, call (847) 459-4100.
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