NEW YORK (CNN) — For the first time since Tyler Clementi’s death, the family of the Rutgers University freshman walked across the bridge where he took his own life.
Clementi’s mother, Jane, and his brother, James, were joined Sunday by anti-bullying supporters as they visited the George Washington Bridge, which connects upper Manhattan with Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Clementi, 18, committed suicide in 2010 after learning his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had secretly used a webcam to stream his sexual encounter with another man. Ravi was sentenced in May 2012 to serve 30 days in jail and three years of probation, and to complete 300 hours of community service. He was released on June 19 after serving 20 days behind bars.
The event Sunday was the culmination of a 37-day, 921-mile walk from Chicago to New York City to promote friendship as a way to reduce bullying. The event was organized by Friend Movement co-founders Ronnie Kroell and Elliot London.
Since Tyler’s death, the Clementi family has formed The Tyler Clementi Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to working with and supporting gay and lesbian youths.
Kroell, 30, and London, 32, worked with The Tyler Clementi Foundation on this Friend Movement project but without any intentions of having the Clementis participating, according to London. They were shocked and honored when Jane and James decided to walk with them across bridge, a painful reminder of Tyler’s death, London said.
“This is a very strong woman who knows that (Tyler’s) life is so important to remember and to help create more awareness,” London said of Clementi’s mother. “(Jane and James) were incredibly strong.”
As they walked over the bridge, Kroell said the sky opened up into warm sunshine and the wind went quiet. They felt Tyler was walking alongside them, he said.
After crossing the bridge, Kroell, London and the Clementis met with about 75 other supporters at Fort Tryon Park to tie purple ribbons — a symbol for anti-gay bullying awareness — around the trunk and branches of a tree in remembrance of Tyler and other victims of bullying who have committed suicide. Kroell and London had asked participants to wear purple as well.
“The reason why we chose not to stop at the bridge, but to keep walking to the end, was to show the community we can overcome these obstacles,” Kroell said.
Having been victims of bullying themselves, Kroell and London said they co-founded the Friend Movement to promote positive anti-bullying messages through art and media, in the wake of an increasing number of adolescent suicides committed because of bullying. They were inspired by Clementi’s death and decided to spend 37 days walking from city to city, having conversations with communities and sharing stories about friendships and bullying, London said.
“Everyone has something that’s happened to them,” London said. “It’s been incredible to be an ear to listen.”
Kroell and London began their walk on October 5 from The Bean in Millennium Park in Chicago, and now they will be flying back to their homes in Los Angeles. Kroell said they are returning as two very different people than when they left and hope to stay in touch with everyone they met along the way.
“These are people that have changed our life,” Kroell said. “They really touched our lives.”