I just wrote about and shared the video that Brigham Young University students did for the series It Gets Better. And I realized that an important part of the struggle young people face is bullying and I’m here to say you can overcome bullies because I did. I was bullied in my old mostly African-American neighborhood and in the white community where my family moved. I was a small, skinny dark boy with glasses and acne and I was definitely a target. I didn’t sound or act like anyone else.
Some guys boasted about girls, smoked and wore the right clothes. I preferred going to the library, finding a book and reading. I identified with the character in the book Loneliness of a long distance runner.
So what did I do to survive and how can my experience help anyone else?
- I had an involved mother. She recognized that I was having trouble with the kids in my neighborhood and even took them to court to force them to leave me alone. Eventually she moved us to protect me from them.
- I had a younger brother to whom I was a role model. I helped him fight his battles and that meant I had to stay strong.
- I recognized that I had talent. Despite the discouraging comments of teachers and other students I discovered that I was smart, a good writer and athletic. Later on I became a listener. Listening became especially important when it came time t develop a career.
- I learned as Gordon Parks said that I had a choice of weapons. I could stand my ground and fight, run away get help from the American Civil Liberties Union or seek out people whose ideas were similar to mine.
- I was not always available. We had just one house phone when I was growing up and I didn’t give out my number to a lot of kids. It’s hard to imagine the days before facebook, twitter and cell phones which keep us connected to friends and may make us vulnerable to enemies. Today I ask people who seem vulnerable why they gave out their phone numbers to so many who mean to harm them.
- We had fights where we made our points but we didn’t go out to kill one another. The one time that I was pounding a kid’s head into the ground surprised and frightened me.
- I developed allies. I have written a few times about the importance of my first white friend in school. When you are lonely and small you are more likely to be cornered and beat up. So even if you are “a nerd,” someone who likes to study, read books, write poetry and go for walks, there’s probably someone else in your school who likes doing those same things. It’s a matter of picking up on the subtle things they may say or do. In my case, I discovered that my friend’s sense of humor resulted from memorizing several Bill Cosby albums.
- Start dating. I think that there are some many positives from dating they outweigh almost any negatives. For me, it meant that a girl had found me attractive. Even though I was not good looking to the kids who disliked me, I met a wonderful Irish catholic school student at a political campaign headquarters not far from where I lived. She played guitar, sang and was a wonderful girl. She liked the features tat my detractors found so repulsive. While some people prefer the small thin lips that a lot of white people have, she enjoyed kissing my dark, full African-American lips. Trust me on this, because it’s part of self acceptance. As you learn to develop who you are and what you believe, you will find romantic opportunities available.