Middle School Students Stand for Peace Against Bullying

Fourteen-year-old ICEF Inglewood Charter Middle Academy student, Nyana Slaughter has been called “stupid,” “big” and “ugly” since she was in the second grade.

“I used to cry everyday but stopped when I realized that it’s never going to get better,” said the eighth grader. “I tell myself that I’m great and important but everyday I feel like I’m nothing. I walk to school everyday and I think before I walk in, ‘Oh my God, what are they going to say today?'” Nyana continued. “I try to do different things-dress different, wear different shoes, wear my hair a different way, but nothing works. It never works.”

Even teachers, she says, have mocked her size, telling her to go “Sit your big self down” or called her “Madea,” the heavyset female character played by actor/director Tyler Perry.

Nyana was one of 350 middle school students from eight Los Angeles Unified School District schools, that recently gathered at the iStand4Peace anti-bullying summit hosted by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the nonprofit organization Special Needs Network. Held at the University of Southern California, the event featured 13-year-old singer-songwriter and author Shanaya Fastje and other speakers who shared their personal bullying stories with the crowd. Students also watched “The Bully Effect,” a documentary produced by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

The day’s events resonated not only with those who had been harassed by their peers, but with students who also acknowledged that they had tormented others.

Vinay Wooden, an eighth-grader at Samuel Gompers Middle School, said she has been both a bully and a victim. After her father died when she was in the fifth grade, grief and anger led her to pick on other students, she said.

“I felt unloved and alone and I wanted someone else to feel the pain that I felt,” Vinay said. “I called [other students] names, threw stuff at them, had other kids throw stuff at them, talk about them, and put stuff on facebook about them.”

Two-years later, however, she herself became a target.

“I had to wear glasses and my mom dressed me,” she said and other students harassed her. The treatment, however, served a purpose. “I stopped bullying because I felt the pain that I made other kids feel. I knew that being bullied wasn’t a good feeling.”

As has been reported in USA Today, one in six American schoolchildren report being bullied verbally, physically or online, two to three times a month or more and some for more than a year. An estimated 13 million American children are teased, taunted and physically assaulted by their peers, making bullying the most common form of violence our nation’s youth experienced in 2012.

The iStand4Peace summit was held to help significantly curtail these statistics by teaching the students in attendance techniques on how to identify and stop bullying behavior. Among the topics of discussed were: how to recognize bullying, how to report bullying, and strategies to cope with and to avoid becoming a victim of bullying. Although it had been months in the planning, the event came on the heels of several high profile cases that have brought the issue of bullying to the forefront of a national conversation.

“Bullying is a national epidemic, but its roots are always local – it starts in our schools, our neighborhoods, and sadly, even in the home,” said Ridley-Thomas, who is also a former high school teacher. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Special Needs Network on this important event.”

“It’s time for every community in our country to come together and teach our children the importance of being kind,” said Areva Martin, founder of the Special Needs Network, an advocacy organization for children with disabilities. “The effort to stop bullying starts with one’s self. That is the message we are trying to convey to all students including educating them on the devastating effects of bullying on students with autism and other special needs.”