Bullied: A Family History (Part 1 of 3)

Bullied: A Family History (Part 1 of 3)

In light of the rash of suicides committed by bullied children as young as nine years old, I felt compelled to address this horrendous issue and offer what parents and students can do about it. But first, I wanted to share my family’s story. We are certainly no strangers to bullying. I’m sure many of you readers or your children have experienced it as well.  I consider myself and family members who were bullied victors, not victims. We were able to overcome. What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. I hope my story helps parents deal with this problem and perhaps prevent a child’s life from being ruined or erased.

I was bullied

I’ll admit it. I use to be bullied. When I lived in St. Louis at age seven, my next door neighbor Gail use to taunt me. She was older and quite mean. At age nine, during the height of Civil Rights and Black Power. my Mom and I moved to Charlottesville Virginia, I got into fights with the white kids who wouldn’t let me sit down next to them on the school bus. I was so happy to move to the Chicago (back North) and be around more black people. But I got a rude awakening when the kids who lived in public housing across the street, use to mock the way I talked.  I was the new girl, an only child with one parent, who lived in those  “new houses”. That was in the early 70s. I was a preteen, living on the near West Side’s Little Italy neighborhood. These days they call it University Village.

Back then, Italians in the brownstones and blacks in the Jane Addams projects lived a block away from each other. I was sandwiched between the two worlds in the newly constructed townhomes built for the doctors, professors and professionals who worked at or near the University of Illinois, Circle Campus. My complex was evenly integrated, a modern day albatross within boundaries of old world rowhouses and boxy public low rises. The Italian kids threw eggs at my window because I was black. The black kids ran me home because I talked “white”. Those were days filled with dread, anxiety and fear.  I felt sick every waking minute of my life. The eggs from the Italian kids I understood. But I didn’t understand the  jealousies and contempt from my own people.  I even drew the ire of one teacher, who thought I didn’t belong.  Being a six grader was not fun and games for me.

One of my earlier tormentors

One of my earlier tormentors, I’ll name W. J.,  was an obese 13-year-old in my class who sat next to the teacher’s desk because he was so unruly. He threatened to beat me up after class. He tried “feeling me” up my skirt and kicking me in the school yard. I had daydreams of taking a switchblade, cornering him alone in an alley and gutting his huge belly like a freakin’ whale. Years later, I heard he was bullied and molested himself by other boys and men in the neighborhood.

Few options

There were more bullies after him. The neighborhood I lived in was tough and I had to form tough skin. Either go to the neighborhood Catholic school and get bullied by the racist Italians or attend the public school and get bullied by the kids in the projects.  Given my experience in Virginia, Mom opted for the project kids. I later learned my mother was also bullied by racists in her all white high school in a small Illinois town outside of St. Louis, MO.  I’m sure this helped seal her decision. Better to deal with your own kind. At least there was shared commonality. But many of the kids I went to school with didn’t see me as like them. I was stuck in an environment that considered me “different”.  In those days there were few options open to a young black mother. Magnet schools weren’t created yet.  You attended neighborhood schools. I developed stomachaches and a reputation for being tardy. I dreaded what each day might bring.

When backed in a corner, I fought back

My experiences happened years before Zero Tolerance in schools was implemented. Mom would tell me to just ignore them. So I spent a great deal of time, not responding to the hecklers and pretending it didn’t faze me. But my stomach was in knots.  Mom once had to come to the Principal’s office and sit down with me and the bully, another boy, who I got into a fight with. Mom tried to bring peace to the situation, God bless her. That night I got a rock thrown through my bedroom window. When backed in a corner, I had to buckle down and fight. Yes, I fought. When I could no longer ignore or walk away, when they laid hands on me, I threw my books to the ground and fought back. And I usually won!  “Yes, my mom said to me, “If you’re pushed into a corner, do what you have to do.” I surprised many of my fellow classmates and myself! This proper talking girl who lived in the new houses could defend herself quite handily if pushed. That earned me respect. The following year I had little trouble and made some lasting friends.  I guess I had to prove myself before being accepted. These days, the only way kids settle things are with deadly weapons - either inflicted on the target or themselves. This is the time to be discerning. Is it the neighborhood bully punk or the gangbanger your child is dealing with? Do you KNOW whether your child is being bullied in the first place?

In my day, I was able to fight back.  That was because Zero Tolerance hadn’t been enacted.  This well- meaning mandate has made it more difficult for some bullied children to defend themselves, because they too can be punished. Sometimes walking away and telling the teacher isn’t an option, so children are sitting ducks to the wrath of the bully. I should know, the cycle of bullying passed down to my son after Zero Tolerance was enacted.

Next week: My bullied son – a victim of Zero Tolerance  Part 2 of 3


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  • Some people tweeted comments or sent me emailed comments. But feel free to express yourself. I would love to hear what you have to say. You can also share on my Raising Hell or Raise Them Well Facebook page.

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    This is such a sad story. I was never targeted and bullied in school but watched others being tormented daily and it broke my heart. I've always felt ashamed that I was not courageous enough to stand up for them myself. At my 10th year H.S. reunion, one bullied classmate who I'd known since the fifth grade returned successful and beautiful and in the ladies room that night I hugged her and whispered in her ear "you showed them all!" She smiled and the triumphant look on her face said everything that needed to be said. She was grateful for the acknowledgement and I was glad that in spite of my initial reservations, I went there with her.

    But here's my question. While bullying has been around forever, why are so many children taking their own lives today? I realize that the internet and social media has intensified this horrible behavior but I wonder, are kids today not raised to be as tough as we were?

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    Same stuff happened to me getting bussed to Poe in Pullman and living in Grand Crossing & Gresham. Kids always pick on kids that stand out, actually everybody does it. Zero tolerance does cause problems for kids when the decide to stand up for themselves.

  • In reply to Kantrell Cameron:

    Kids that stand out....Yes, they do Kantrell. It's really interesting how "standing out can mean different things depending on the school you go to. One schools "normal" may be considered "weird" at another. It's crazy.
    Anybody can be a target depending on what school you go to.

  • Hi Edye: your post touched me very much. You are such a sweet person, I can't image you had these experiences. I was not bullied like you were, but I was picked on and taunted because I was so small. I didn't really defend myself. Just chose to ignore the kids and their comments and stay to myself. I know the comments still lurk somewhere in my physique Do we really get over them? I guess things never really change. Kids get picked on for all kinds of reasons.

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    I had a bully in grade school named Little Richard (because he was shorter than everyone one else). He had a sidekick named Willie who was thin and taller than everyone. They would terrorize everyone just for the heck of it. I would make fun of them to get back because they were not to bright and they were older since they had failed classes and had been held back. Since, I could run a lot faster than them, I would always out run them after making comments about how dumb they were, after they ruffled me up a bit. I was always cautious about going around corners in school because they would try to catch you when you're not looking. They tried to corner me one day in school but I had to put my Forte moves and speed on them to get away. There was another kid who kept pushing on me all the time. Knocking my books out of my hands. So one day, he confronted me in front of a group of other students He started pushing on me again and from no where (this how the Rhino in me began) and I pulled back my fist and cold cut him right dead in his nose. He fell to the ground hard and when I looked down, blood was every where, girls started screaming and I was taken down to the principles office. No worries my mom took care of the situation for me. That kid became one of my good friends after that. I later moved across town to a new school district, so I didn't have to deal with Little Richard and Willie in Junior High School, but that brought on a new set of bulling issues...here's that story.

    In Junior High School, again we had a small group students who were bullies. A few who had been held back and was a lot older than the rest of the student population. I met a guy named Kary Denson, we became best friends. We forged an alliance to always walk together to watch each others back. We also made homemade billy clubs in wood shop that we kept hanging out of our back pockets for protection. A day of victory came for us, when I befriended a student named Robert Jackson. Robert Jackson was a really big kid, one reason he was such a big kid because he was 16, still in Junior High School. He was in my wood-shop class and was struggling to make things out of wood. So, being the nice guy I am and a very creative person, I helped him with his projects and he got a passing grade in wood-shop. So, one day a group of guys was about to jump on Kary and myself, we had our billy clubs drawn and ready to do battle. Big Robert Jackson noticed this and walked over and told these guys, If I ever catch you messing with Darryl I will kick all your A....ss ( get the point). The word spread like wildfire that if you messed with Darryl, Big Robert Jackson would kick your butt. Good thing he failed a few other classes because I had my bodyguard until I graduated.

    Things have changed since then, we used our fist, not knives or guns to fight. The worst weapon today is social media; Facebook, YouTube where people can make fun of you globally. This is going to be an interesting world in the next 20 years. We all need to pray!

  • @Edwina: I think childhood suicides are more prevalent now because there's nowhere to hide when lies and terrible things are broadcast over the Internet. I think it encourages otherwise silent kids to join the bullying when it's over the Internet. Kids are going through hormonal changes too, so they are especially vulnerable and deeply effected. Kids take on more ridicule then we ever did . @Knit 239, sometimes you never get over the harsh words. @Darryl, those are funny stories. Befriending a potential bully or at least someone who can help defend you is a good strategy!

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    I pursued a satisfying career in the advertising industry, served as a volunteer mentor and parent educator at my two (now grown up) sons' schools and have actually stayed happily married for over a quarter of a century. However, my most gratifying achievement was raising my sons well. I'm not saying there wasn't a little bit of hell raising going on, but you live and learn. Now I'm passing the knowledge on to you. My goal is to turn these nuggets of wisdom into reference books for parents.

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    Check out my other blogs: "Trending Over 40", An informational blog for those over 40 who find themselves social-media challenged, http://trendingover40.com "Black Copy" Reflections of a veteran ad chick, http://eldhughes.wordpress.com. You can find samples of my ad work on this site. Simply click on TV and Print tabs. Also check out my company, Hughes Who Productions http://hugheswhoproductions.com. We develop games and animation for casinos, marketers and educational institutions. Thank you for your interest. Blessings... Edye
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