Music can be the change

Tim Leonard started Music Unites Against Bullying in an effort to combat bullying inside schools. The idea originally started as a fundraiser that will take place on Nov. 18, and grew into an organization. • Hannah Burlingame/Review

New organization to hold fundraiser against bullying for South St. Paul Schools


One night, Tim Leonard says he was laying awake thinking. This September, two students in area schools committed suicide within a week of each other; he knew one was because of bullying. 

“It tore at me. I was thinking of my past of being bullied,” Leonard, a South St. Paul resident says, pointing out he has lost friends and family to suicide because of bullying. “I knew I wanted to do something. I just wasn’t sure of what.”

When Leonard woke up the next day he says he had an idea: a concert. Leonard says music is what saved his life, and his plan was to bring bands of different genres together. “In my head, bringing different genres together was showing unity.”

His concert, Music Unites: Be the Change, which will raise funds to combat bullying in South St. Paul schools, is Nov. 18 at the South St. Paul VFW.

From this idea, came a movement: Music Unites Against Bullying.


A way to help others

Leonard says he always wanted to do something to help people. 

“I know the pain that a lot of the victims are going through,” he says, adding he also knows the pain that bullies go through. On paper, Leonard says he should have been a bully when he was younger because of things going on at home, but he describes himself as a lover, and not a fighter. 

“Bullies aren’t bullies just because. They’re learned behaviors. We have to re-teach and be out there,” Leonard says. 

During the planning for the concert, Leonard says he realized the scope of his work could reach beyond the South. St. Paul community.

“I decided I’m going to turn this into an organization because why just stop here?” he says. “It’s not just South St. Paul that needs help, there’s other schools in Minnesota, in the country.”

Leonard says he started a board of directors that is passionate about the cause. Many have been affected by bullying in some way.

While this first event still has yet to take place, Leonard says the group, Music Unites Against Bullying, is already planning for the future.

The concert started with four or five bands signed on, before growing to eight. The bands are all donating their time by performing for free.

Along with bands donating time to the event, local businesses are donating a range of things, including items to be sold in a silent auction. Leonard says the response has been “surreal.”


Helping make a change

The money raised from the fundraiser is going directly to the South St. Paul School District. Leonard says schools need the help because they’re where kids spend most of their day.

Superintendent Dave Webb says Leonard reached out to the district around the beginning of October. Webb says the district is always looking for ways to build and strengthen partnerships with various organization and those in the community to help support students, staff and families.

The money from the fundraiser will be used by the district for curriculum and staff training.

Webb says the district is committed to the success of each student through a positive, safe and effective learning environment. 

Increased usage of social media is starting to have a larger impact on bullying behavior, he says, adding that bullying can negatively impact a student’s ability to learn because the student can’t focus on schoolwork due to their safety, both physical and emotional, being threatened. 

“We continue to establish rules and policies that clearly describe how students are expected to treat each other,” Webb says, adding the district’s core values are at the center of all work. These values include compassion and respect. “It is our goal to provide learning opportunities that enforce and support these expectations.”


Musicians giving back

Diane Byland is the lead singer of Bad Weather, one of the bands playing at the fundraiser. Leonard used to be the band’s drummer, and Byland, along with her husband, kept in touch with him.

“When he asked us to sponsor and join this anti-bullying mission, we didn’t hesitate,” Byland says. 

She says there is a dire need to raise awareness about bullying and create change. Many kids are alone and hurting, she says, and some may turn to suicide to escape the pain. 

Despite moving around and being the new kid often, Byland says she had great friends and happy memories. However, she can vividly remember the times she was bullied or picked on; it always puts a lump in her throat. 

Both Byland and Leonard say music is healing for many people. Both her and her husband Steve are on the board of Music Unites Against Bullying because they believe in the cause. 

“When a musician says, ‘music saved my life,’ it is 100 percent true and not a cliché,” she says. “I know we can reach so many through music and give them hope.”


A way to unite

At the Nov. 6 South St. Paul City Council meeting, South St. Paul Mayor Jimmy Francis declared Nov. 12-18 as Unity Week. 

The idea started after Leonard went to pick up his daughter from school and everyone was wearing orange — it was the school’s Unity Day. 

It will be a week for businesses and residents and anyone else in South St. Paul to become involved.

At the meeting, council member Bill Flatley told Leonard that using music to address bullying is a great approach — Flatley is the board chair for a youth choir.

“What’s striking to me about that organization is the variety of kids that are so interested in music. What unites them is the music,” Flatley said.

Leonard’s dream for Music Unites Against Bullying is that kids who are bullied will see they have support systems.

“They don’t have to keep quiet. They can talk about it. They will learn that it’s going to be okay and there are people out there who do care,” Leonard says. “They’re not alone.”


People who want to volunteer or get involved with the organization can email Leonard at or find the group online at

“We have strength in numbers, and together we will be the change,” Leonard says. 


Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or

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