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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
BY ANGELINA DeVINCENZO, East Lake High and LILLIAN SKYE NOBLE, St. Petersburg Collegiate High
Hundreds of people of every age bustled around Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa on Sunday at a big lawn party thrown by Erase Hate Tampa Bay. (See the rest of our photos from the day here.)
A great view of the Hillsborough River and the University of Tampa provided perfect backdrop for the group’s message that bullying in any form should be erased and tolerance embraced, and that everyone can come together in respect.
Live music by Brandi Carlile, YouTube sensation TJ Prodigy and others, caramel corn and fluffy pink cotton candy added to the day’s fun, which also included family activities and the chance to take a pledge not to be a bully, to speak out if someone is being mistreated and to celebrate diversity.
Many in attendance spoke of personal experiences.
Sydney Dixon said all her life she had been teased about her weight, but the Riverview High freshman said things were getting better for her since high school, because middle school students are less mature, less secure about themselves. “Now I focus on helping others who are getting bullied.”
Abigail Hughes, who is in middle school, affirmed that bullying can begin at a young age. “I came from Germany,” she said. “It started because I had a thick accent. They thought it was right to bully me. It started in second grade, and ended in fifth, because I changed schools.”
Hughes said the guidance counselors at the first school didn’t believe her. She said she found out later that the students who had bullied her were eventually expelled for hurting other kids as well.
Jack, a seventh-grader who did not want his last name used, said he was bullied for being bisexual. “People are insecure about themselves so they bully other people,” he said. While he thinks that all forms of bullying are terrible, he said cyberbullying is the worst, because people think they can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.
But the bullies will be “brought to light,” he said. “If you think you’re invisible online, that’s not true.”
Carlos Borges, a freshman at Jefferson High, came with his family, including his little sister who was enjoying the bounce house. “Bullying shouldn’t even be around,” Borges said as he kneeled down to talk to her. “It’s messed up for people to bully others just because they’re having problems.”
If you have any doubt the problem of bullying is widespread, listen to some more voices from Erase Hate:
Plant High junior
“I am Jewish, and in ninth grade, a few kids would tell Jewish jokes about me at lunch, and then many more kids began to join in. I knew they were just trying to be funny, but it still hurt.
“I did not know about the event, but I saw it while I was across the street eating lunch, so I decided to come over.”
Giunta Middle seventh-grader
“Many kids at my school will take other kids’ book bags from them and push them. Once, my friend was trying to throw this kid’s book bag around, and I told him to give it back.”
Liberty Middle seventh-grader
“In sixth grade on my first day of school, this girl bullied me about my clothes and about my Muslim religion. This same girl would also change my name to ‘Faggot Nagat’ or something like that. Bystanders reported it because I was too afraid and she was older than I was. We ended up in the principal’s office and while we were there, she apologized and now we are good friends.
“I feel bad for people of different religions or cultures because they are more prone to bullying.”
“I was at a private school (Bay Shore Christian) and kids were bullying me there and in my neighborhood. It became serious. For me, school was horrible. When I got home after school, I would ride my bike around the block and the same girls would wait for me and knock me off my bike.
“It did not happen as much at Coleman Middle School. Then, I switched to homeschooling because of the fact that I was bullied and because my parents thought that it would be a better education. I have been homeschooled for four years now and that has blocked me from bullying. I personally do not like being homeschooled, because I am a more social type of person."
Florida Virtual eighth-grader
“At my old school, Sacred Heart, a girl would kick me and call me names even though I was older than she was. I now attend Florida Virtual School, although I like regular school much more.
“In an effort to try to take a stand against bullying, some of my friends and I went to a marathon (Walk Against Bullying) to help raise awareness of bullying.”
Tampa Bay Tech sophomore
“I don’t think (bullying) is fair. I think the worst case is cyberbullying.”
Riverview High freshman
“All my life I was teased about my weight, but I learned not to listen to them and to be there for other people. Now I focus on helping others who are getting bullied.”
Orange Grove Middle
“I had dyslexia and ADD, and I was slower in reading groups. The teasing got so bad I had to switch schools. Cyberbullying is the worst form of bullying because it’s easier to hide behind a cell phone instead of saying ‘I don’t like you’ to your face.”
Tampa Catholic High sophomore
“Psychological bullying is the worst. We need to teach people how it affects others.”
Venice High junior
“People started random rumors. Just gossip mostly, (about) how I’m friends with mostly guys. It’s always girls bullying me.”
Venice High junior
“People bullied me about my past, and they said I should kill myself. I actually tried to, and my heart stopped, but I came back to life.”
Farnell Middle eighth-grader
“I don’t understand why people bully. The worst thing you could do is not say anything.”
“I came to sing at this event because I have a campaign called Chains for Change, and I want to put an end to bullying . . . I was getting sick of seeing people get bullied . . . I would see my fans being bullied over Twitter and Facebook . . . cyberbullying is the worst . . . To victims of bullying I would say, ‘Believe in yourself and be who you want to be.’ ”
TJ Prodigy, rapper and Erase Hate performer