Five years ago, I was invited to speak at Miss Selma’s Schools on “T” street in Little Rock. I was asked to talk about the dangers of bullying and the consequences it can have. At the time, bullying was getting a lot of attention, not just in Arkansas, but all across the nation. So, I did research, prepared some mental notes and did the best I could. I have no idea if I made an impact that day. But I do remember the presentation was only about 10 minutes long. Little did I know that what I started five years ago, would take me on a journey all across the state. The stories I have heard from innocent young children have been heartbreaking. The emails I have received from parents looking for answers has been overwhelming. It makes me realize just how important this topic is and that more needs to be done to address this epidemic.
In 2014, I personally noticed something that disturbed me. News media, including local news, was covering the subject of bullying. Stats were being released, stories were written or aired on TV, but in my opinion, the most important questions weren’t being asked… or addressed. What’s being done to stop it? Who’s talking to the kids and teaching them about the dangers? Who’s listening to their concerns? Where can they go to get help? What can parents do to make sure their kids are safe? The list goes on. So, I took that idea and with the blessings of my boss, Austin Kellerman I ran with it. I’ve been running ever since.
Over the past five years, I have attended more than 300 schools and been fortunate enough to address more than 60,000 students in high school, middle school, and elementary school. I have also been honored to speak and local churches and after-school programs. And recently, I have received requests to speak at schools in northern Arkansas… locations that can’t even see FOX16 News. It blows my mind and tells me that what I am doing is needed and important.
The stories I have heard break my heart. I’ve had ten-year-olds tell me they are being bullied and are considering taking their own lives. I have had teenagers tell me they are cutting themselves because of the pain they feel inside and that no one, including their own parents, will listen to them. I have parents call or email me telling me that their son or daughter is being bullied and that they no longer want to go to school. Other parents tell me that the school is doing nothing to help or protect their child. I could go on and on. It’s a sad reality of today’s day and age. Rules and laws have been written to address the growing epidemic, but more needs to be done. The first line of defense comes from the parents themselves. The lines of communication need to be open 24/7. And what I’ve learned from the kids themselves is that we need to do a better job of listening to them and validating their feelings — regardless of what they are. Those feelings are real and raw. They must be addressed, validated and somehow comforted. Don’t dismiss them. I am NOT an expert. I have no medical or psychological degree and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But over the past five years, I have listened. I have heard the horror stories and even covered them. These kids are our future and they deserve more. They should be outside playing sports or with their friends.. instead they are tied to their cell phones, on Snapchat and take every word written or texted seriously. They are hiding behind their phones, wearing false masks and many parents aren’t aware of what truly is going on behind the scenes.
My work is far from over and I won’t stop. I can’t stop. The last thing I want is for another young, beautiful innocent life to be taken because of someone bullying them. It is 100 percent preventable. So, I will continue to improve my program, my presentation and I will continue to travel long distances to get the message out that bullying is not cool. I will continue to educate them and teach them what they can do to stop it and where they can go to get help. And if I am addressing 600 students or just 20 like I did for the first time at Miss Selma’s five years ago, if I can get through to just one and make a difference in their life… I will be the happiest man in the state of Arkansas.
If you would like my “Step Up, Stop Bullying” program to come to your school, click on the link below and fill out the request form: