Meet Upstander Wasif Qureshi

Wasif Qureshi - Photo Courtesy Carolina Peacemaker

Photo courtesy The Carolina Peacemaker

What are common misconceptions you often hear about Muslim-Americans?
Muslims are anti-American. Muslims are anti-modernity. Muslims are terrorists. Muslims women are oppressed by their male counterparts. Muslims are in opposition to, or hate people of other religious faiths including Jews and Christians.

Has there been a time when you have felt bullied or harassed due to your faith? Could you tell us a bit about it?
I personally have not been bullied in my recent life based upon my faith. Although, I have heard many such complaints from people who are easily visually identified as Muslims. This group comprises mainly of women around the city of Greensboro as well as students that either visually or by action are as identified as Muslims.

How can non-Muslims best support their Muslim brothers and sisters?
Two ways: Educating Muslims on the rights they possess as US citizens and supporting programs that help bring basic information/recognition around Islam/Muslims (as understood by Muslims) to academic, work place and faith-based settings.

Statistics for how many Muslim-American students experience bullying

Click to see full image.
2017-01 - Bullying-Muslim-Students

What’s the most effective way to address a bullying situation involving a Muslim-American victim?
First, report the incident and document it and provide trauma support to the victim and extended families. Second, Bring awareness to the problem. Lastly, build an anti-bullying network and hold anti-bullying programs via a regular cadence.

How can a classroom make safe space for young Muslim-Americans?
Bring awareness of bullying faced by Muslim-American youth, provide education around Islam and Muslims helping fight the misconceptions I mentioned above, and open dialogue between students to understand dynamics causing issues in the classroom.

What do you believe people across communities can do to end the harassment and violence towards people of the Muslim faith?
Three things: Inward facing education around Islam and Muslims, hopefully with Muslim involvement; participate in outward facing community events and programs with Muslim counterparts; and reach out to people that are not part of the “choir”.

If you could say one thing to someone who feels negatively about Muslim-Americans, what would it be?

Meet a Muslim locally and learn through the relationship, what Islam means to the person on the ground.

Do you feel there are particular differences to how American women of Muslim faith are perceived by society compares to the men of Muslim faith?

There is a stark difference, as Muslim women are viewed with an eye of judgement and cynicism, particularly those that wear a Hijab and are easily identified as Muslims. Harassment, marginalization and even emotional pity is given to the misconceived condition of the Muslim woman and the position is found hastily generalized.

How do you see rhetoric from politicians and public figures regarding Muslim faith affect treatment of Muslim-Americans? Do you feel it contributes to increased harassment of Muslim-Americans?

This harassment ebbs and flows over time and in earnest started after 9/11. There have been many incidents of increasing hate crimes around the US based upon recent election rhetoric. Specifically, the Islamic Center of Greensboro has received a few threats, including letters asking for Muslims to disappear from the Greensboro area. The response to this threat was the formalization of a yearly Peace Festival, started in 2015 and the inter-faith and community engagement event has been successfully organized for two years running.


Wasif Qureshi is President Emeritus for the Islamic Center of Greensboro and father of two beautiful children. He is hopeful and committed to the cause of peace, justice and equality with a focus on the immediate sphere of influence.

Photo courtesy The Carolina Peacemaker


The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

Share

Joe’s Story: What I Learned By Being Bullied

tcf-post2789-joe-manetti

My name is Joe Mannetti. I am an anti-bullying blogger for the We Are 1 Voice group based in Florida. I became involved in this journey as a result of what I witnessed and experienced myself. I have not shared my personal bullying ordeal in this forum until now. This is my story.

I moved to Connecticut after the cost of living in Los Angeles became too much to handle any longer for me. I selected Connecticut because it was where my mother and father resided. I was broke, and I did not know where else to go. My family and I had been mostly estranged with minimal contact for over two decades while I resided in Southern California. I thought that re-connecting with them along with the relatives I had been separated from might offer some support during this transitional period of my life. 

I was in a new environment. Things were different. I expected them to be that way. But, nothing could have prepared me for what happened within almost a year of moving to what I hoped would become my new home. My father had been complaining of trouble breathing. He was scheduled for a doctor’s check-up, and I was going to drive him there and discuss the results afterwards with him. We were both concerned. My father never made his appointment. I found him dead in his house on the floor clutching his heart and reaching for the phone. I was devastated. But, the nightmare had only just begun.

My father’s relatives had always displayed a propitiatory stance with my father. While my father’s body was being dragged out in a body bag, these same relatives entered his house, broke out beer that they took from the basement, and began giving directions about how my father’s funeral would be coordinated as an event to promote their restaurant – the restaurant he had left a month before dying. I was shocked. The police were shocked. They asked them to leave the premises. They refused. Later, the funeral director informed me that he had been screamed at over the phone by one of those same relatives to take orders from her based on her business schedule regarding the funeral. The bullying had begun. When I saw a public post on social media promoting an event after the funeral at the restaurant those relatives managed, I called it out along with their behavior. That was the beginning of cyber harassment directed against me that went on for close to six years. Sixteen fake profiles popped up on social media, usually impersonating people of color or LGBT people. These profiles networked with all of the people in my social media network. The comments these profiles made attacked me by making insulting remarks about my physical appearance, denounced me as a liar or someone who was mentally ill and not to be listened to, and more.

tcf-social-joe-manetti-tile_1080x1080The cyber harassment was instigated and created mostly by my father’s relatives. But, it was supported by other people in the community. I was blind-sided each time that I witnessed one of them give a thumbs up to these posts attacking me as well as my mother. The sense of betrayal also added to the feelings of isolation and loss I was experiencing after finding my father dead. I attempted to move away from the area several times. I blocked each and every profile, along with profiles that gave such posts a thumbs up. I never responded or engaged with the relatives or others who supported the harassment. When they could not get to me via social media, a note with my image and vicious comments in red ink written across it was left on the windshield of my car for me to find after coming home from a Gay Pride Parade. My mother also received threatening and bullying notes in the mail. Finally, the relative who had been the chief instigator of the bullying, confronted me in a parking lot. She followed me to my car, blocked my way, and hurled insults at me insulting my masculinity while daring me to put my hands on her the entire time. 

I did go to the police. I did file reports. I did seek support. But, I was in an environment where no real effective support was offered or made available. I was also in a much more provincial environment with no comparable semblance of an LGBT community like the one I had enjoyed being connected to in Los Angeles. I had lost my support system.

In looking back, I have recognized a few truths.

1. I have learned that bullies consistently pick vulnerable targets. I sensed, from the beginning, that I was an outsider when I moved to Connecticut from Los Angeles. I perceived this even before the cyber attacks took place.

2. The ability to attack was made more readily available when I was more vulnerable after the death of my father. All of us, no matter how strong, have moments in our lives when we are in a more fragile state than others. Experiencing the death of a loved one is always a difficult time. It was immediately following my father’s death that the viciousness of the bullying and cyber bullying intensified. I was an easier target to those who were predisposed to bullying me from the beginning. They simply waited for the most opportune moment to launch in with their attacks.

3. There was not much effective support offered to me while I was being cyber bullied, and nobody in any position of authority or leadership stepped up to confront the bullying. In fact, a great many influential people in the local communities where I was living at that time actually supported and encouraged it. This allowed it to continue and escalate.

4. Bullies rarely continue to be bullies without support. What allowed the cyber bullying that targeted me to go on for years was the support the bullying received from so many people. They supported the bullying with silence or refusing to call it out, pretending that they did not know about it, or actually joining in with the attacks themselves. None of the bullying was ever effectively confronted, and none of the people involved with it have ever taken responsibility or apologized for it. Not one person from any local LGBT organizations that I had supported in the area stepped up or took a stand against the bullying that had attacked me as well as others in LGBT communities along with the people of color who had been mocked all over social media with the fake profiles.

WHAT I LEARNED

LGBT people need safe spaces. This is especially so in environments where there is an overwhelming lack of diversity or LGBT communities. I was made a target for a variety of reasons. But, one of the chief variables was the overwhelming lack of a supportive and diverse LGBT environment that I experienced when I moved from one location to another. 
Individuals, particularly LGBT individuals, need to have a readily available and effective support service that they can contact if they are being attacked or cyber bullied.

Excluding people or dismissing their pain as “whining” when they reach out for support can often make them internalize a sense of shame over the entire situation. I experienced this profoundly while I was being harassed. If a supportive environment is perceived in which the individual feels he or she can be heard as well as be themselves, it can save a life.

Nobody knows how to deal with all of this when it happens to them or someone they love. It’s learning process. I am still learning. The Tyler Clementi Foundation is helping all of us learn together. We have only just begun to take cyber bullying seriously.

Joe Mannetti is an anti-bullying blogger, public speaker, and multi-award winning LGBT activist. He has a Master’s degree in counseling, and he currently resides in Florida.


The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

Share

Betsy DeVos must commit to ending bullying for ALL children, or she shouldn’t run the U.S. Department of Education.

TCF Statement about Betsy DeVos

The following statement may be attributed to Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi and Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which works to end online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities.

“The nomination of Betsy DeVos to run the US Department of Education is very distressing. DeVos is ideologically driven and has dedicated much of her life to dismantling public education. Putting her in charge of the very institution she derides should worry all Americans. We need more protections for students – not less, and if DeVos hopes to shift America away from public schools and toward for-profit and charter schools, I worry that the hard won state and federal protections against bullying and civil rights violations will be shredded.

TCF Statement about Betsy DeVosAlso, DeVos and her family have made massive financial contributions to right-wing organizations that oppose equality for minorities, especially LGBT people including ballot measures against LGBT equality.

Our Foundation is calling on Betsy DeVos to commit on the record to strengthening anti-bullying protections and laws. And we are calling for the US Senate to get her on the record in regards to these issues. We cannot entrust the USDOE to someone who isn’t committed to the principles of safe, free, equal education for all young people. If DeVos does not commit to doing all she can to protect all youth from the harms of bullying, bias, harassment and humiliation we will oppose her confirmation.”

Share

Jane Clementi Offers to Work with Future First Lady Trump at Sold-Out Upstander Legacy Celebration

Tyler Clementi Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi offered to work with future first lady Melania Trump at the 5th annual Upstander Legacy Celebration on November 14th at the Prince George Ballroom in New York City.

Clementi welcomed Ms. Trump’s call for an end to online bullying of children and teenagers. She said she would be willing to meet with her to discuss how they could work together, but with a caveat.

“I do believe that if she truly would like to move forward on this very worthy initiative” Clementi said “she must first look back and recognize the toxic display of bias, bullying and cruelty of so many marginalized groups by the Trump campaign.” Clementi said mean-spirited and cruel comments had the effect of normalizing bullying in American society. “It is only by acknowledging and apologizing for this past poor behavior in the cyberworld that our new first lady will be able to move forward and have a truly impactful future, creating a safe and respectful online experience for our youth.”

ABC News Correspondent Gio Benitez expertly hosted a program that featured two musical performances. The Tony-nominated actress and singer Kate Baldwin performed the song “Bare.” And actress and singer Bridget Barkan performed her single “Danger Heart.”

The Tyler Clementi Foundation honored three teenage filmmakers from the Mythic Bridge Youth Filmmaking Workshop in New York City. These filmmakers were winners of AT&T’s Cyberbullying Film Invitational at the All American High School Film Festival. The foundation also honored Workplace Options, which has partnered with the foundation to bring a workplace training module to companies nationwide.

At the end of the program Executive Director Sean Kosofsky asked people to be financial upstanders and donate to support the foundation’s programs. There also was a silent auction that included a signed Prince Limited Edition Purple Guitar and a painting by Tyler Wallach. Thousands of dollars were raised to support the Foundation’s programs to end online and offline bullying.

Thanks to singer and songwriter Marcus Goldhaber and his musicians for entertaining attendees while they enjoyed Kim Crawford Wines and SVEDKA Vodka cocktails. The event was made possible by the generous support of Champion Sponsors Barilla America, Inc. and Workplace Options, as well as the support of AT&T and the COIL Foundation.

Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation.

Share

Scattering Hearts, Spreading Hope

Peyton's Heart Project

In 2015, I had the idea for the Peyton Heart Project. I wanted to create a movement that focused on kindness and that would have the potential to spread around the world. I wanted it to be a project that would raise global awareness about suicide, bullying, and mental health issues.

I named The Peyton Heart Project after Peyton James, a 13-year-old boy from Texas who, in October of 2014, died by suicide. Peyton had been relentlessly bullied by other students at school for a number of years. I had read about Peyton’s story and I wanted to help tell his story through my heart project.

Quote from Jill KubinI reached out to his parents and requested their permission to name my project in honor of Peyton. They agreed and now Peyton’s father, David James, helps me run the Facebook page. David is also helping me set up The Peyton Heart Project as an official organization. We hope to become a 501(c)3 in the very near future.

Many of us know what the negative effects of bullying are on those who are bullied and how difficult it can be to believe that life will ever get better. Far too often bullying leads to depression, self-harm, and sometimes even suicide. I myself was bullied throughout my childhood until the end of junior high because of a physical disability. It is because of those horrific experiences that I want to help others find hope in their darkest hour.

Peyton Heart Project hand-made heartMany people have been impacted by suicide and by mental health issues either through their friends or through their family members. Many people have been able to identify with what the Peyton Heart Project is doing and that is what is making this project resonate with people in over 50 countries around the world. In fact, several people have messaged us and told us that they happened to find a heart on a day when they were contemplating suicide. They said that they saw the heart as a sign that they needed to live another day and they thanked us for giving them hope. Hearing that kind of story from those who have found our hearts inspires me to continue trying to reach people with our hearts.

The Peyton Heart Project has hundreds of volunteers around the world making crocheted, knitted, and other kinds of hand-made hearts. We attach tags with inspiring quotes from our website to each heart and the hearts are then left in public places for people to find. The hope is that the hearts cause people to stop for a moment and reflect on a life lost to suicide, on bullying, and on the fact that everyone’s life matters. We also hope to leave people with a feeling that there is good out there in the world.

by-Julia-Kubin_1-600x720I hope the Peyton Heart Project inspires others to join us in our mission of kindness because the world could always benefit from a little more love.

If you would like to help us spread hearts in your community, please go to our website at www.thepeytonheartproject.org and learn how you can become involved. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.

The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

Share

3 Tips for Talking About the Election to Family This Holiday Season

Talk to Family Over Holidays

This holiday, give the gift of bullying prevention. Make a gift to TCF today of $5, and help us create a country free from humiliation and harassment for our youth and for our future.

This holiday season, do you expect to discuss politics with family?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


Many believe you should never talk politics or religion with friends or family. For people passionate about change…that is mighty hard. This holiday season, it is inevitable that the 2016 election will come up with millions of families. How can you survive this experience? Here are three tips:

Disengage: Breathe in. Breathe Out. You know your situation and your family better than anyone. Do you really believe that engaging that relative pro-actively or reactively is going to change anyone’s mind or not ended up in tempers rising? Consider resisting the temptation to engage or stepping away when it is brought up. Family is family and holidays should be enjoyable.

Feel Empowered: For those who don’t want to “agree to disagree” and want to feel more empowered, consider telling your personal story and not letting it escalate. Is there a way to explain calmly that elections have consequences for actual people—people like you, people who are minorities? Tell the story of an LGBT, immigrant, Muslim or disabled person you know and maybe just maybe you will feel more empowered that you planted a seed of empathy.

Find Common ground: Think about values instead of positions or candidates. We all share similar values even if our actions demonstrate contradictions. Nearly all people support fairness, liberty, public health, a clean environment, caring for the less fortunate, etc. Center conversations around values. If you take up all the moral high ground, you leave little room for people to stand with you.

This holiday, give the gift of bullying prevention.Make a gift to TCF today of $5, and help us create a country free from humiliation and harassment for our youth and for our future.

Donate Now

Share

2016 Upstander Legacy Celebration:

Thank you for helping to make this our most successful Upstander Legacy Celebration to date!

The evening featured hosting by ABC’s Gio Benitez with special performances from Bridget Barkan, Marcus Goldhaber, and Kate Baldwin.

Thanks to generous corporate partners, sponsors, friends and newcomers for also sharing personal stories of victimization and resilience as well as renewing support in our fight against bullying, intolerance, and negativity.

Please show your support with a donation

Congratulations to our 2016 Upstander Legacy Celebration Honoree Workplace Options.

Congratulations also to our youth honorees from Mythic Bridge, winners of the AT&T Film Invitational. Watch their powerful and emotional short film:


Photography by Syd London


THANK YOU TO OUR GENEROUS SPONSORS

Barilla Logo as Sponsor of Upstander Legacy CelebrationWorkplace Options - Sponsor of #Day1 from the Tyler Clementi Foundation
AT&T Logo as Sponsor of Upstander Legacy CelebrationCOIL Logo as Sponsor of Upstander Legacy Celebration

Craig M. de Thomas/Insignia-BNT Teacher’s College · Columbia University Rutgers University – New Brunswick

John Bowab · Derrick* & Dan Brown-Ritchel · Neil Giacobbi* & Bethany Godsoe · Goldhaber Research Associates · Catharine Hough & Keryn Lowry · Deb Rizzi · Taglialatella Galleries

Julian Alden & Steven Waldberg · Laura Birk* · Alan S.* & Ben Buie-King Kevin Carroll · Robin Dillard* · Ingrid Galvez* & Connie Thorp · Father Michael Lynch John Norton · Proposition Love · Janice S. Robinson, Esq. William S. Singer & Raoul Daniel Luna · John Norton · Deb Rizzi Chris Tomanelli · Ari Waldman*

* Indicates Board of Trustees

Share

Christian Mothers of LGBTQ Youth Should Know: “You Are Not Alone”

tcf-post2603-serendipitydodah

The world seemed to shift this week and left some of us shaken. If you are the mom of an LGBTQ kid, we want you to know that you are not alone. You do not need to go through this alone. There is a secret Facebook group that exists for moms like you.

Here is a bit of information about the group:

Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group created as an extension of the Serendipitydodah blog. The group is secret so that only members can find it or see what is posted in the group. The group was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 1,400 members. The space was specifically created for open minded Christian moms who have LGBTQ kids and want to develop and maintain healthy, loving, authentic relationships with their LGBTQ kids. In addition to providing a space for members to share info and support one another, a special guest is added each month for a few days. The guests include authors, pastors, LGBTQ people, bloggers and public speakers.

For more information, email Liz Dyer at lizdyer55@gmail.com.

Share

O’Neal’s Story: “I always knew I was different.”

O'Neal Wyche School Photo

I always knew I was different. I was always told so. My name is O’Neal Leon Wyche, Jr., and I’m a Champion Against Bullying. ​​

I grew up in a small town in South Georgia where everyone knew each other and their secrets. I was fortunate to have a loving mother and supportive stepfather, a safe home and food to eat. I had clean clothes on my back everyday, but they weren’t the right clothes. On picture day in the 2nd grade, my mother outfitted me in a dress shirt, trousers and a tie.

As I walked into the school, the majority of the other kids were dressed in regular casual clothing —T-shirts, jeans, sneakers. This wasn’t the first picture day that I’d worn dressier clothing to school, but it was the first time I’d notice the unusual stares from kids in the hallways. As soon as I stepped into my class, a few of my classmates, particularly three boys, burst out laughing. They’d made fun of me before, and today was no different.

​“Nice tie, O’Neal,” James said, barely able to contain his laughter. “You’re so corny!”
His words punched me in the gut, and I was terrified. That terror and feeling unsafe through teasing, taunting followed me for the next nine years of my life—though this was only the prelude for things to come. James would mock me and say mean things in class and at recess. In retrospect, I understand it now, but when you’re seven years old you don’t really understand why someone is being so mean to you.

O'Neal Wyche TileAs a child of Jehovah’s Witnesses growing up in the South, I didn’t know that having more feminine mannerisms and my religious beliefs would be the reason why I was bullied. But as I grew up, I was reminded of these differences constantly. As we went through each grade, James, John and Derrick bullying increased and got more intense. His aggression toward me led other students to tease me too, at his daring.

One particular day in Physical Education, he convinced a girl who would often get sent to the principal’s office for causing havoc in class to pick on me. She cornered me in the back of the gym and kept pushing me saying,

“What you gonna do? I dare you to push me back.”

While this was happening James and his friends were laughing in the background. None of the other students did anything, and I was afraid that if I did push her back we would both get in trouble—something I always feared as a kid. She then proceeded to grab my neck and choked me up against the wall. All the while, she was laughing and saying, “Do something.” Eventually the coach saw what was happening and broke up the huddle, but I knew that I lost. And this would only make the way I was treated worse now that a girl had humiliated me.

The environment at school became so bad that I would consistently return home crying, and I woke up in the morning not wanting to face another day of name-calling, hurt feelings or a possible ambush by other kids. I decided to share the details of what was happening at school with my mother. She told me that she understood, that these things happened all the time. She encouraged me to be strong and not let their words get to me—as hard as it was to internalize. My mother always told me that I was a very intuitive kid, which was a blessing and a curse. And while I knew her advice came from a good place, I could predict the results of her counsel. And as much as I tried to swallow my pain, when James and the other students would bully me, I couldn’t contain my shame.

My grandmother was a paraprofessional at my elementary school, so I began confiding in her. This was one of the smartest things I did—to a point. My grandmother spoke with my teacher and principal, and collectively they all began noticing each interaction I had with other students. And while this minimized the bullying in the class, it continued outside of the classroom.

​When I was in the 4th grade, the teasing from the same group of boys became verbal. I would hear outbursts in class:

“Why are your clothes so tight?”
“You act like a girl.”​
“Look at the way you hold your hand and walk.”
“You’re a sissy.”
“I saw you knocking on doors with those Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

O'Neal Wyche School PhotoI was a very timid and soft-spoken little boy: the kid that sat in the front of the class with his homework completed. I never wanted to get in trouble, so I never said anything back to the bullies. My sister Rosalyn, however, was the complete opposite. She has always been a strong outspoken person that didn’t care what anyone had to say about her. We’re 11 months apart in age, and we always went to the same school together. I always knew she was just down the hall in class, and I would see her at lunch or at recess. I began telling Rosalyn about the boys that were teasing me. “No, O’Neal,” she said to me after I told her what they’d been saying to me. “Nobody is going to treat you like that.” And she fearlessly approached them the next day after school.

While waiting to be picked up by our grandmother next to the big oak tree in front of the school, one of the boys came over teasing and pushing me around. Immediately, my sister grabbed him by the neck and pushed him up against the tree.

She tackled him to the ground as she screamed out, “Don’t bother my brother again!”

At that moment one of the teachers on outside duty saw what was happening and ran over to us to break up the fight. My grandmother also arrived and yelled out of the car window, “Rosalyn! Get off that boy and get in the car!” Although I was happy about what she did, it only made things worse. Her teacher scorned her the next day, and was sent home with a citation. Worse, I had allowed Rosalyn to fight my battles and had become more of a coward in the bullies’ eyes. The teasing continued to escalate.

As years went by, the bullying continued until it became my normal. As a freshman in high school, I realized that regardless of what my mother, grandmother or sister did, I was alone and I had to handle it by myself.

The first thing I had to do was question why these things were happening. I wanted to understand what the boys bullying me did. Through their eyes I started to analyze the way I walked, spoke and dressed. I realized the way I walked was lighter than the football players headed into the locker room. The way I talked was softer than the other boys who raised their hands in class. The way I dressed was more precise, too, like I was trying to express something. I saw what they did, suddenly, and it frightened me. This was the time when I was supposed to be a man, chase after girls, assert my strengths and rise up like the other boys. But the path, for me, was not as clear.

Even at home I was afraid to communicate this fear. Surely my mother, a religious, God-fearing woman would have taken my worries as reason to fear what kind of man I was. Maybe she’d even question my sexuality. The act of telling my family would have transformed the long-standing bullying into a conversation my family was not ready to have. So, just as my mother had told me, I kept it all inside: a secret from everyone including my sister. I was not only confused and hurt, but afraid of what would happen.

Things began to turn around, however, once I realized I was not alone.

During that year, one weekend in 1999, I watched a film called Cruel Intentions, which involved two vicious, wealthy siblings at an elite Manhattan prep school making a horrible wager to seduce a fellow student without falling in love. The brother, Sebastian, was a stylish, young guy that had everything and could have any girl he wanted, except for Annette, the object of the bet. Of course, he ultimately falls in love with her and changes his way—but it’s too late. And while some might write “Cruel Intentions” off as just another 90’s teen movie, Sebastian inspired me in two incredible ways: by finally identifying the root of his participation in bullying, and seeing someone change to embrace what they feel in their heart. His bullying came from insecurity just as strong as my own. And when he embraced connection with another person over how he was perceived by others, he showed his true capacity for love. He was an authentic human being with his emotions and also the way in which he expressed himself, which ultimately changed the way I thought about myself. I realized that if it came from a place of truth and expression, I could be whoever I wanted, wear what I wanted and do what makes me happy. And I saw the kids who bullied me as being just as insecure as I was and able to change.

With this new resolve, I immediately began the transformation process in stepping into my true authenticity.

I stopped dressing to fit in and started wearing clothing that I felt comfortable to me. Surprisingly, they happened to be dressier clothing—the clothing that had precipitated the bullying. The first day of junior year, I walked up to the high school in my new threads and a new attitude. I was confident waiting with all the other students for the bell to ring. I knew that I would get uncomfortable stares and teasing. I was a bit nervous, but I refused to falter. For the first time in my life, I truly embraced my uniqueness, not letting my worries get in the way of my liberation.​

It was the first time I felt alive and my true self.

This realization also shifted my focus to my future—which included experimenting with new clothing and personal style, creating art, being the only guy that actually enjoyed sitting in Home Economics. I even started a school dance crew that went on to win 1st place in a local talent show. I chose to change what was happening to me by embracing myself and putting my desires before anything else. I ignored the bullying and it eventually became silent noise.

O'Neal Wyche PortraitAs I learned more about individuals who are bullied and why students bully other students, I learned that those young boys were facing a terrible home life and were bullied by their parents and older siblings. Yearning for life’s necessities such as a safe, clean home. All things I was blessed with. I understand now and hope nothing but the best for them. This experience has truly helped mold me into the man I am today.

Special thanks to Shane Lukas, Stephen Jordan and Noah Ballard for the push and help with bringing this story into fruition.


The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

Share

Meet Upstander Kirk Smalley

Portrait of Kirk Smalley

How do you define bullying?
Bullying is repeated, unwanted aggressive behavior. I think that bullying is also in the eyes of the victim. If you feel that someone is being a bully to you, even if they claim to be ‘only kidding,’ then that could be considered bullying. It’s time we take the power away from the bully and put it into the hands of the victims.

What do you think is the scariest thing about being bullied?
I would say the scariest thing about being bullied is feeling absolutely helpless, that there is no where to turn for help—no way to get away from it.

What resources do you think a person should have available to respond to bullying?
I feel that having a support group of like-minded individuals that have experienced bullying and can relate to others’ experiences is very important. Individuals like this need a space without fear of ridicule or judgement.

Kirk Smalley TileHow do you think the community can help if someone is being bullied?
Stand up for them! In most cases, if a bystander gets involved or speaks out, bullying will stop within seconds!

What does respect mean to you?
Respect to me is letting you be you and me be me and not judging someone by stereotypes or differences.

If you could do one thing to stop all bullying, what would you do?
I am doing it! I travel extensively whenever I am invited to speak to schools and communities, raising awareness to the very real and devastating effects of bullying.

If you could say one thing to anyone who is the victim of bullying, what would it be?
Stay strong. We love you and are fighting for you! This WILL pass. It WILL get better.

What role do you think the internet plays in bullying?
I think the internet has increased the ease that people can bully each other. Now, we don’t have to face someone to ruin their life. We can do it while hidden behind a monitor or cellphone screen without fear of immediate repercussions.

How are you an Upstander?
I work very hard to support victims of bullying and give them the resources and tools to find out that they are someone important and that they DO belong. We have chapters of Stand For the Silent started now in 39 states and 18 countries to help do this and give the victims a place to belong and find support.

Do you think someone who bullies other can change?
I have no doubt in my mind that bullies can change. I receive hundreds of messages from kids that have heard us speak saying, “I never knew that what I was doing could cause what happened to your son. I am sorry, I will quit and I want to help you make it stop.”


Kirk Smalley is an anti-bullying advocate that is passionate about stopping bullying and youth suicide. He and his wife have experienced the devastation that bullying can and does cause and have dedicated their lives to making sure that no other family lives our nightmare. Follow Kirk Smalley and Stand For the Silent on Facebook and Twitter.


The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

Share

New Video

Jane Clementi speaks at the GCN Conference 2017 General Session