CLEVELAND — About 20% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 have experienced bullying nationwide, according to stopbullying.gov.
A young Cleveland girl is hoping to influence her peers to choose kindness instead of with a book she wrote about her own story of being bullied.
While she was in first and second grades at Campus International School in Cleveland, 10-year-old Ja’Vae Williams-Hunt had multiple brushes with bullying.
“So in first grade, the little girl when I was in line, she started kicking the back of my shoe and then pushing me. I asked her to stop and she didn’t and then she did it again. And then she just started calling me names,” said Williams-Hunt.
Fortunately, Williams-Hunt’s feelings never progressed beyond sadness, in part because of her mom, Joy Williams.
“What I do is I talk to my daughter all the time just so she can know, ‘There's nothing wrong with you, understand that.’ Some people may be going through something at their home or maybe getting picked on. So it's not you. So always walk with your head up,” said Williams.
Both bullies eventually apologized and became friends with Williams-Hunt. Then only 7-years-old, she came up with an unexpected idea.
“Ja’Vae came and told me probably that same year, she was thinking about writing a book. I said, ‘Oh, well, that's something we could work on!’” said Williams.
Two years later, they published Why Bully Me, a fictional book based on Williams-Hunt’s real-life experiences with bullying.
“I see a lot of kids and they could be older than me or younger. And just, you know, could hurt themselves and then end up not being here. And I just want to help a lot of people,” said Williams-Hunt.
Dr. Carolyn Ievers-Landis, a licensed clinical psychologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, said bullying can have major consequences depending upon the person targeted.
“It's very, very serious and should be taken seriously,” said Ievers-Landis. “It can affect people's self-esteem. It can make depression worse. Anxiety worse.”
Ievers-Landis said there isn’t a clear-cut reason on why someone becomes a bully and several factors can come into play like impulsivity, emotional challenges, stress, or things going on at home. She said it's important for adults to realize that bullies need help just as much as the person being bullied does.
“I think that's so helpful that you have that internal dialog of those adults, even one adult who believes in you, who cares, and sees all your good qualities–that's going to help you through it. You're not in this alone,” said Ievers-Landis.
She said a young voice like Williams-Hunt’s entering the conversation can only be a plus.
“It's wonderful to have, you know, children and teenagers be part of this, be part of these programs. It's vital, you know, more so than just as adults like to actually talk about what it's like now,” said Ievers-Landis.
If the bullying isn’t resolved with just a conversation like it was in Williams-Hunt’s case, Ievers-Landis said it's complicated, but ultimately, adults need to go deeper with kids like counseling, medication for mental health issues, or identifying the situation at home or at school causing the child to lash out and trying to fix that.
Since it was published in 2020, more than 400 copies of Why Bully Me have been sold and there are plans for more books.
“I did get a lot of feedback from the book and everybody liked it. The kids were very interested in it. I heard that a lot of daycare teachers bought it,” said Williams. “I’m just so proud of her. I’m proud of Ja’Vae.”
Williams-Hunt is excited to blossom in her newfound calling of demonstrating how to be kind.
“I felt good because like I said, other people, it will help them very, very much. And then when they read the book they will know to never be a bully,” said Williams-Hunt.
Anyone interested can purchase a signed copy of the Why Bully Me book and other merchandise on its website.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District has a student lead bullying prevention program called "Not on Our Watch." It works towards making schools safe spaces and has a number of parents and students to ensure kids aren't being bullied or are bullies themselves. Click here to find out more info.
Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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