Friday, October 22, 2010

On Bullying (Where I Revisit My Past To Help The Present)

I'm gonna take you guys back down Memory Lane. Every time I hear about someone being bullied, it hits me personally. A reminder how it's been only a decade since I was last in their shoes and how far I've come as a person and how I've changed.

I was cursed by being a smart, respectful kid. I was one of the smallest kids in my elementary class so I was picked on. I was called names and taunted. It started in 3rd grade - it wasn't merciless but it was still upsetting. Little did I know it'd get worse when I transferred schools.

3 years later, I was bullied again because I was the smart, glasses-wearing kid who appeared weaker than everyone else. I was afraid to get in trouble so I would wonder if it was my fault that I was picked on. Maybe I said something I shouldn't have or did something stupid? I did the common techniques - avoid them, don't talk to them, go the other way - but it was still not enough. It resumed in 8th grade at a new school when one of the bullies transferred.

Name-calling, pushing, insults. I took it in and I tried to tell the school administration. Of course, they took a passive attitude - they were concerned but they didn't do enough to help me. I felt alone and I'd come home upset, angry and I'd pray for an escape. Never did I want to commit suicide, I just wanted someone to see me and help me out.

It all came to a head in 9th grade. I decided I wasn't a punk anymore. If the teachers and administration weren't going to fight for me, I was going to take the fight to them. Yes, I was scared of getting in trouble and blowing my chances at a scholarship but it was time to fight back. I'd verbally confront my bully in class several times with no regard for upsetting things.

One time, I got lucky - I wheeled around and slammed the back of his head with my plastic notebook. It felt good but I felt scared cause I couldn't carry it through to a full blown fight. Once he pushed me back, I yelled at him and walked into class. Unfortunately no teacher came out to see what was wrong. Go figure.

It stopped once we had a Parent conference. My parents showed up, his mom did. I remember reading a letter called the 3-YR war that I wrote. My Dad showed me true love by not only being there but addressing both of us. He encouraged us both to do better and stop this one and for all. Do better as Black kids who had high potential and not waste it fighting. My bully admitted that he respected me and didn't want to hurt me but just make me tougher.

One of his finest moments. From then on, I never had a problem with him or any bully again. He transferred but his lesson  stuck with me. I would no longer let anybody punk me without me standing up to it. I wouldn't let anybody close to me be punked or bullied either. My closest friend was bullied our senior year and I wasn't afraid to take his fights as mine. It's also seen in the friends I make and how I'm a naturally caring person.

I carry invisible scars that have healed with time. Every now I then, I flinch at stuff more than most people. But I've grown past it by God's grace and getting old enough to see it for what it was. Nothing that stopped me from meeting my goals, great friends and getting on with my life.

A decade later, I see bullying has gotten worse than it was for me in 1996, 1998-99. Technology has turned bullying into a lingering nightmare for the targets and now if something goes viral, it'll do way more damage than just the school boundaries. It was bad enough when I lived through the school shootings of 1998, Columbine in 1999, Santee High School in 2001 and others. The bullied lashing out violently.

Now in their desperation and longing to be free from pain, they have gone to a level I never ever approached. Suicide. Selfish yes, but also sad. The literal end game. These are my brothers and sisters in pain and when I hear stories, I go back to a younger me who shared that.

On Wednesday, many wore purple to remember 4 LGBT victims of bullying. There is a campaign to target victims saying "It Gets Better." CNN did a week-long special on bullying covering it from all angles as they've done before covering this issue previously in smaller doses.

As I watch this, I feel that more can be done. I have a feeling that many are jumping on this issue because of who was bullied, not the noble cause of anti-bullying. I watch most of the coverage now and it seems primarily focused on anti-LGBT bullying. One more cause in the growing fight for gay rights.

(Sidenote: I hope that Don't Ask, Don't Tell rightly comes down. I'm happy and it's about time. There's no need to bar people in the armed services from hiding who they are. Fact is, they want to serve our country in the noblest way like anyone else. Let them do it. )

Understand that I'm not against raising this issue. My heart grieves for them and their families/friends/loved ones. But if people are truly committed to fighting bullying, we must not only speak for one sector. We must reach out to all victims of bullying - those who walk with invisible scars and those who are being inflicted now.

It doesn't matter if you are gay, lesbian, straight, small, tall, fat, skinny, smart, wear uncool clothes - bullying in any form is wrong. Many people suffer and it's up to us to speak for them today. We must fight ALL types of bullying against ALL people. I want all victims of bullying to be spoken for today. I want kids who are not like me AND like me to feel like they have a voice who will defend them.

Again, I stand in solidarity with anyone who is wearing purple. As a Christian, I call on my brothers and sisters in faith to support the basic premise, remembering the deceased and making sure it doesn't happen again. Yet let us support not just certain victims, but all victims. This not only honors the fallen, but supports those who are living with scars.

Here's what we can do to expand "It Gets Better" - which is a great first step but speeches/encouraging tweets can only go so far when somebody needs a closer helping hand.

1) Encourage victims to talk to somebody they trust (a parent, friend) and somebody in the administration. Don't hold it in and don't hurt yourself or others to handle the pain. Talk to somebody. By looking towards suicide, you risk hurting more people. Hurt people hurt others. Reverse the cycle.

2) School administrations should take reports seriously, we have too much evidence of what happens they don't. Listen to your students. Take a zero-tolerance stance and show a united front against it from the top down.

3) Encourage students who aren't victims and watch it from afar to imagine being in their shoes. Imagine being afraid to come to school or walking in fear of someone. Minding your own business seems noble but privately or publicly, you can make a difference by befriending the victim or asking the administration to take a stand. Do you know how great movements gain traction? When non-victims join the fray to show solidarity. If you treasure your support network, why not help build someone else's?

I tremble as I type that. I tremble as I've debated this privately for the past few weeks. But I tremble with fear that my words will be taken the wrong way. This isn't an attack, it's a plea to widen the umbrella of support. If we don't speak for all victims, it could create a hierarchy of shame and that serves no one.

A few weeks ago, Mom asked me what I would say to my former bully. I wasn't sure. I mean, I feel like I know why but I'd still ask it again? I don't have any anger towards him, maybe regrets for not fighting back more. But no anger - he's forgiven and I've moved on. Now I work to make sure others who feel my pain have a voice.

Support all victims of bullying. Stand up to bullies. You never know what potential they can have by being a conquerer.


  1. Well written and very brave friend. :) Thank you for sharing. I could definitely relate.

  2. Great post, brother. For three years during elementary school, I was bullied for being overweight. It never got to a daily-basis sort of thing, but it was a weekly occurrence at least. After elementary school I was enrolled in private school and never really encountered true bullying again, but those scars definitely stayed with me. All through high school, college, and even today at 25 years old I deal with my own issues about my weight, and I know it all stems from being the 10 year old fat kid who couldn't climb the rope in gym class! I've been fortunate enough to work with kids of various ages for several years, and I'm adamant about stopping bullying in its tracks. Whether the kid(s) is/are 3 years old or 13 years old-- I don't tolerate it, and I won't tolerate it if I'm blessed with children of my own someday.