"Choose to Include" Bullying Prevention & Education
August 7th, 2018. This is the day I vowed to share my bullying experience so that others would know they're not alone.
My first real encounter with bullying was when I returned home from summer camp in northern Minnesota. Electronic devices weren't allowed so it had been a while since I had been on social media. As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I noticed a video people were commenting on, so I decided to watch it. Imagine my horror when I realized the video was about ME. Someone I barely even knew had posted numerous photos of me, calling me horrible names and saying I’d never amount to anything. I was just 13.
Fast forward to 2019. I finally had the opportunity to audition for the lead role in our school musical, Mary Poppins. Lo and behold, I got it...it was a dream come true! That is, until a group of girls started a petition to have me replaced with someone else. I’ll never forget them walking from table to table in the cafeteria, asking people to sign it. The worst part was seeing people who I thought were my friends sign their names. My heart was crushed. I ran to the bathroom, hid in a stall, and tried (unsuccessfully) to hold back the tears. What should have been a day of celebrating was forever tarnished.
As a freshman, I was called names not fit for print and had multiple fake social media accounts made about me. An upperclassman I didn't even know once told me I "deserved death and should kill myself." I know there are thousands of people who have their own bullying stories similar to mine. The truth is, words really CAN hurt.
It would have been easy to withdraw into myself and let the bullies win, but I knew I had to take action. Rather than "hating" my bullies, I decided to turn my pain into purpose by sharing my story so others would know they're not alone. I became a Youth Advisory Board member for PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, the nation’s largest anti-bullying organization based in my home state of Minnesota. We have monthly meetings and brainstorming sessions to plan things like the Unity Awards, the Run/Walk/Roll Against Bullying event, Unity Day, and much more. I also started my Buddy Bandana program, where I give students bandanas with a specially designed logo to tie on their backpacks as a visual reminder to always be kind. It was an honor to have been asked to present online videos and social media content for NBPC and am excited about the progress we are making in combating the bullying epidemic.
Three years ago, I became involved with Best Buddies when I volunteered at a fashion show. I was partnered with a young woman named Elizabeth, who has Down Syndrome. We hit it off and a friendship was born. We ended up becoming official "buddies" through the Best Buddies Citizen Program, and we do fun activities together like coffee dates, going to the zoo, going mini-golfing, crafts, you name it. Through my work with PACER's NBPC, I learned that people with IDD (intellectual or developmental disabilities) are THREE TIMES more likely to be bullied. This motivated me to create my "Choose to Include" program, which focuses on creating a world which values kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
Over the past four years, I've shared my story—and combined that message with the national impact of PACER & Best Buddies—to reach students all across my state and beyond. I especially focus on the effects of bullying on those who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. I also use the power of social media for good, promoting anti-bullying initiatives and utilizing PACER's resources to further my reach. I believe everyone has the right to grow up in a world free from bullying.
how to tell an adult
Click HERE for a great resource on how to tell an adult if you're being bullied (or know someone being bullied)
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Click HERE for the top 5 things to know about students with disabilities and bullying
Click HERE to order a "Create a World Without Bullying" resource kit from PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center