Rufus Hannah and Barry Soper want to help end bullying in schools.
The pair came to Great Oak High School in Temecula Tuesday to discuss their story of friendship, while promoting the importance of self-esteem and being kind to others.
Hannah, who has been called “the most famous homeless person,” was the star of the “Bumfights” videos that featured violent stunts and fighting shots on the streets of San Diego and Las Vegas.
The 56-year-old man originally from Swainsboro, G.A. was the victim of habitually cruel behavior when he participated in the do-it-yourself “Bumfights” videos. He seemed weak and roughed-up in the videos.
Teenage filmmaker Ryan McPhearson and a crew of his friends produced and distributed the “Bumfights” videos in 2002.
The videos exploit drunken homeless men as they sit and roll on skateboards, and tumble to the ground like limp ragdolls. Homeless men jump off walls and land on cement surfaces while their knees buckle underneath them. The videos show men wailing rounds of punches on other men who don’t fight back.
Hannah and Soper co-authored the book “Bum Deal: An Unlikely Journey from Hopeless to Humanitarian,” which chronicles Hannah’s life on the streets with his friend Donnie Brennan and their participation in the “Bumfights” videos.
The Jan. 25 discussion was held in the Great Oak gymnasium, taking place every hour on the hour. Groups of students from each class period were able to hear Hannah and Soper speak.
“Our story is one of hope,” Soper, a Rancho Santa Fe real estate mogul, said to the students.
“When I saw Rufus for the first time, I said, ‘Hey you! Get the heck out of here or I’m going to call the police,’ and then another homeless man jumped out of no where,” Soper said.
Hannah and Brennan were rummaging through garbage cans near one of Soper’s properties. Soper was angry at first until he discussed the problem with a religious leader he knew in the community who told him to stop arguing with the men and help them instead. Soper agreed and when he saw Hannah and Brennan again, he offered them jobs.
“We said, ‘Okay, we’ll go work for him,'” said Hannah.
Things were going well until one day Hannah was approached by some young filmmakers.
“This kid comes over to me and says, ‘I hear you get drunk and fall down a lot. Want to make five bucks? Run head first into those milk crates and knock them all down,'” said Hannah. “I said, ‘Sure.’ Five bucks was a lot to me.”
The video producers made over $6 million, said Soper.
Hannah and Brennan struggled to get out of the grips of the “Bumfights” filmmakers. They finally broke free with the continued help of Soper. They have since been involved in lawsuits against the video producers.
Hannah still keeps in touch with Brennan but has moved on and is remarried with a new baby. He has been sober since 2003. He graduated from college. He also holds a job as Soper’s assistant manager at Lakewood Villa Townhomes in San Diego.
Hannah and Soper held back their tears while they showed a film montage, depicting the horrors of the “Bumfights” videos, to the students.
“This should never happen to another person again,” said Hannah.
Hannah said he has been transformed. “It’s wonderful now,” he said.
Great Oak students were touched by Hannah and Soper’s discussion.
“I thought it was inspiring,” said 16-year-old Alicia Lamson. “I thought it was great that (Hannah) turned his life around. I wanted to cry.”
Hali Hodges, 17, agreed the event had an important message.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” she said.