A couple of weeks ago, a group of middle school boys posted a camera-phone video of themselves bullying and tormenting a 68 year old school bus monitor. For over ten minutes the four 13 year olds harassed Karen Klein.
They berated her about her weight: 'If I stabbed you in the stomach, my knife would f***** go through like butter, because it's all f***** lard',
Her family: "You don't have a family because they all killed themselves because they don't want to be near you." Klein's son committed suicide ten years ago; her husband has also passed away.
This group of boys mercilessly tormented the grandmother of 8 until she eventually broke down and began to wipe away tears. Unfazed, the teens continued to bully her. Amazingly, she never retaliated to any of their insults.
This video went viral, and so did the reaction of the public. These kids thought they were funny. No one is laughing.
It blows my mind that ANYONE could be so cruel to someone who has done nothing to harm them. My mom is a high school teacher, and I imagine how I would feel if that were her being bullied by a bunch of brats on a bus.
But the thing is, this kind of behavior is not uncommon. Across the country, we see a rash of young people killing themselves after being incessantly bullied. It's become such an epidemic, it's got its own name: Bullycide.
When I was in high school, there was a girl who spent every bus ride home being bullied. She was over weight, and had acne, and that's all I knew about her. A group of kids on the bus would scream insults about her size and her skin the ENTIRE ride home. I sat in my seat and listened to their taunts. I never joined in, but that's nothing to be proud of. I'm ashamed that I never even tried to do anything to stop them. I never made an effort to get to know her. I wonder where she is today and if she's OK. I'd apologize for being just as cowardly as the bullies by not speaking up. I regret my inaction and will make it a mission to never sit idly by while someone else is being put down.
I hope wherever the girl on my bus is, that it got better for her. The " It Gets Better" campaign has been a way to reach out to young people who are dealing with bullies. It lets them know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, that the bullies won't get the best of them, that it gets better.
But, what I've learned is when they say, "it gets better", what they really mean is YOU get better. Sadly, bullying isn't limited to kids on school busses. There are grown adults who are bullies. I recently had someone refer to me as, a "great big nothing of a thing" because I didn't place in the top 15 at Miss America over three years ago. When I shaved my head and raised 50 thousand dollars for kids with cancer, grown people wrote comments on Internet news articles about how ugly I was, how disappointed they were that I was the one chosen to represent the state at Miss America, that only, hot girls could get away with being bald... I was "a dog". Once, a grown man who knew absolutely nothing about me, came up to me and called me a "stupid f****** c**t" when he heard I was Miss Virginia. Words cannot express my shock and hurt, but I hung on to the positives in my life.
Earlier that same day I had been a guest on Good Morning America and America's Newsroom in NYC to promote the St. Baldrick's program, which raises money for pediatric cancer research. I met with the director of the Redlight Children Campaign to plan a way to bring his film exposing child sex trafficking to more audiences, and flown back to Washington, DC to be a guest on a sports show where I spoke on being a female in a male dominated sport: ice hockey. It was a day where I had accomplished so much, but that man's comment is something that still taints my memory.
What I've realized is that sometimes the most ignorant people have the loudest voices. I can never understand why someone could have such hateful feelings towards a person they don't know, and who has never done anything to hurt them. Not only that, but to feel that hatred so passionately that they are compelled to express it in a public forum.
It's a fact of life, though. There are people out there who get their kicks by kicking others down. And you know what, we should all feel sorry for them. "It" gets better, but "they" don't always get better, and that's their problem. What's awesome, is that YOU will find people who love you for you and lift you up every day.
You can't please everyone because some people don't want to be pleased. These are the folks that will go to the grand opening of a fancy restaurant and look for something to complain about. In the process of complaining, they miss the fabulous cuisine and beautiful atmosphere. What a miserable existence that must be!
Back to that group of boys on the bus. They've each been suspended from school for one year, and will have to attend an alternative classroom. They are also required to do community service at a senior center (GOOD!), as well as take bullying classes. Their parents also have to attend workshops on bullying. I believe this is hugely important because something is lacking in the parenting department if a child can so heartlessly and cruelly demean a 68 year old grandmother the way these boys did.
Many people out there are heated about the boy's actions and saying the punishments aren't enough. They not only want legal action to be taken, they are posting their own threats saying the boys basically need to be beaten up. As tempting as that sounds, it just fosters the culture of bullying when we bully back the bullies.
Bullying is not cool. It's not funny. It's pathetic. Strive to be the kind of person that makes everyone around you feel better about themselves, not a low-class punk who gets cheap laughs from a weak audience by picking on someone. You'll make more friends by lifting people up, rather than looking for ways to demean them.
As for the bus monitor, a fund was set up to send Karen on vacation. Organizers hoped to raise about $5,000. Over $600,000 later, Karen has all of her bills paid and will take her family and friends on a nice, fun trip. And let me tell you something about what makes Karen so fabulous: She generously gave away most of what was left of that money to charity, and graciously accepted the apologies from the young men who so cruelly disrespected her.
So where do we go from here? I hope you all join me in making a conscious effort to lift up those around you and stand up for those who can't defend themselves. Call me out if you see me doing otherwise, and I'll do the same for you.
As my good friend Katie Uze says, strive to leave a legacy of kindness. Pass it on.