Bully Free Forever
Victoria, Atholton HS, Class of 2020
Victoria and her friends are eradicating bullying from their school and replacing it with supportive and uplifting words and behaviors.
I remember every single detail. It’s funny how that works; I was in the third grade lined up against the wall, my class heading back to our homeroom from the gym. I remember looking at the time on the digital clock up on the wall, when my shoulder was tapped, and I was asked if I was an illegal immigrant.
I remember every single detail from these sorts of incidents, whether innocent or to a more violent degree, whether they happen to me or to another. This is simply one of the firsts I can recall, really. You only ever remember the before, and the during, but the after is just a rushed blur, ironically in slow motion still.
Now, mind you, it was the third grade. Kids can be cruel and often it’s not necessarily their fault. They pick up on other behaviors; it’s the things that surround them and the way they’re raised and the lack of that red light going off in their brains, telling them what they’re doing isn’t alright.
The issue was, no one challenged those behaviors. And so they festered.
They became so incredibly normalized and ingrained that any discomfort displayed towards the most seemingly minimal offense, was trivialized. And so we began pretending like we didn’t hear the insults, and the mockery, and the snide laughter, the most intimate attacks. We began closing our eyes and our ears in denial, and we let ourselves believe that being bystanders was okay.
We need to remember the afters. We need to have some recollection of a consequence, of reparations of some sort. We can’t allow these incidents to just happen, move on with our days because we feel it doesn’t concern us.
We underestimate words, but they cut. Hinder and humiliate. But they don’t have to. With them we can heal, if we choose them consciously. It’s up to us. And it really is, all of it; I remember in English class, my teacher spoke on how strongly he disliked the archetype of a hero who was chosen to be great, chosen to save the world. It’s dangerous. We grow up with this: the movies and the books that take an average kid, around our age, and force them into a situation that required heroism. As if we aren’t capable of choosing to thrust ourselves into these already present and dire scenarios. That’s the example we needed set, that we will set. Be who you needed when you were younger.
We cannot allow corrupt mentalities and moralities to direct us. We have to attack these ingrained mindsets the second we feel that hint of hatred, take that extra step and actually care enough to evaluate why we feel and think the things we do. Nothing changes if nothing changes. We’re often encouraged to give into believing that with bullies, playing both sides is an option. It’s not. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye, have the mindset of “well, it’s not happening to me, so it doesn’t matter.”
We are the generation that starts caring beyond our own circumstance.
I said this at last year’s assembly and I’ll say it again: no matter how often we remind ourselves that we’re all good men, good women, we need to understand that being good is an action. We don’t earn the honor by simply shaking our heads when we hear about someone being bullied, or being shot down, or someone being attacked for who they are and their lack of power.
We earn it by acting to end that negative culture, and by doing it even when it’s awkward and uncomfortable. Most people understand the obvious differences between right and wrong, but aren’t allies in the fight against this culture because they refuse to acknowledge their own culpability when they slutshame, use femininity to degrade women and men, use racial or homophobic slurs or insinuations, when they don’t keep their hands to themselves, or remain silent when their friends talk about their own questionable behavior. It’s not enough to teach about bullying, we have to encourage each other to have the courage to speak out against it, too.
I’m not just speaking to students, I’m speaking to teachers, too. We recognize what you go through, and I applaud those who uplift this message despite their own personal stressors. Your roles in our community are so important, – I remember when I was in middle school, I felt very strongly that there were no adults in that building who genuinely cared about my wellbeing. And then one day at school, a very close friend of mine confided in me and my friend about self harming. The day was full of shattering breakdowns on more than one end, confusion, guilt, and we went to my health teacher whom we trusted most. And I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t. On the last day of middle school, I handed that teacher a letter thanking him for his impact on me throughout the years. On my friend.
Us students, we need empathy. We need your compassion. We need your perspective, and insight, realizing learning goes both ways.
And we need to have an honest conversation in order to do that. Of course, our perspectives all vary, because of uncontrollable factors, sometimes in more harmful ways than others. But what we can control is taking the initiative to push that perspective wider in a sincere and willing way. You’re never just hurting the person you direct your words or actions at. Realize every time you say or allow something cruel to happen to another, someone else around you who you care about, silently decides they cannot trust you. You might think only the loud, violent attacks are to be blamed, but silence and inaction are just as dangerous. So it is necessary to refuse that impulse to will something away. Students; don’t be afraid to speak up, to act. Teachers; you play a huge role in shaping us into the people we become. Thank you for taking care of us, our education is an enormous privilege. But please do not forget to teach patience, to teach respect beyond the general interpretation that “being respectful is being silent.”
Our voices matter.
You are welcome in our club, in this school, no matter the harsh environments you might face. If you are female, LGBT, if you are black, asian, muslim, hispanic, if you are young and struggling; your labels, or lack thereof, are not insults. They’re not to be ashamed of. Take pride in who you are, show off your culture of excellence, because who you are is absolutely beautiful, and your stories deserve to be heard.
Thank you to our club leader, Señora Grady, for hearing our stories and welcoming us with open arms and an open mind always. You are absolutely incredible.
Let’s remember empathy. Let’s remember compassion. And let’s not be lazy about it. Our diversity is our greatest gift, what we bring to the table in spite of anything we’ve gone through. As we grow into the people we want to be, these are the moments to stand taller and truly deliver the highest levels of integrity, truth, and loving kindness. Online, in person, 24/7, no excuses.
Do not laugh when you do not understand the context. Do not laugh when you do, yet decide to humor the cruel. And if you have felt a twist in your stomach, a twinge of culpability, sitting, listening today; if you’re starting to pay attention to red flags waving clear; do not crawl back in lame attempts, rise, and go forward and don’t let this happen to anyone else again, the way it did to Ms. McComas’s beautiful daughter.
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