Sixth grader, Antonio Ayala, 11, of Alliance College- Ready Middle Academy 7, is called fat and teased for running slowly by a handful of classmates every day – it happens at recess, at lunch and even during class.
“It’s been happening to me since I came to middle school last year,” Antonio said. “This morning, at nutrition, one of them tackled me down on the playground and called me obese.” He doesn’t tell his teachers, he said, fearing the consequences, “I’m afraid that if I tell anyone, it will get worse.”
Antonio was one of 425 middle school students from five Los Angeles middle schools who recently attended the second annual iStand4Peace anti-bullying summit hosted by Special Needs Network, Inc. and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Held on the campus of the University of Southern California, the event featured 14-year-old songwriter and author Shanaya Fastje, twins Erin Green and Desiree Glover of Twin of a Kind and other speakers who shared their personal bullying stories with the crowd. Students also watched segments of “The Bully Effect,” a documentary produced by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“The need for kids to learn the importance of how to respond to teasing and taunting and harassment just can’t be overstated,” said Areva Martin, Esq. president and co-founder of Special Needs Network, Inc. “We want to give kids in LA County –kids in the Second District the opportunity to learn positive behaviors, to learn how to navigate their campuses, not become bully’s and not be bullied.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wanted the students to feel empowered to know they could tell a school administrator if they witness or experience bullying.
“All of you here can take a message forward,” he told the students. “You can stand against bullying and stand for peace.”
The Bullying Prevention Institute notes that the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that every seven minutes a child is bullied at school. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, every day 160,000 children miss school due to fear of being bullied.
Indeed, Antonio Ayala, who wants to become a police officer to help protect people, said he hopes to go back to his school and take a stand against bullying.
“I don’t want to live in a world full of violence and cruelty,” he said. “I decided that I need to keep moving ignore what they say and follow my dream.”