I had the opportunity to attend the premier of the new movie BULLY in Indianapolis alongside the film's director, Lee Hirsch, earlier this week in advance of my big race in the "Night Before the 500."
When I sat down to write what I wanted to share about the movie, I couldn't help but be reminded of something one of the kid's fathers had said during the film after his young son committed suicide.
"My son will be 11 years old for the rest of my life."
That statement really resonated with me, and it puts into perspective how many people experience the effects of a kid being bullied, especially the family and of course the child in question.
When I was being bullied, I didn't want to tell anyone. Like most boys, I didn't want to show weakness to my dad and instead be an adult about it and handle my own problems. I thought that more than anything, it was just a part of growing up and learning to deal with your own battles. But when I finally found the courage to talk with my parents, it was the best decision I ever made. The advice and support they provided was a big help to me in battling it and moving forward.
The film BULLY really shows how kids handle being bullied and why some choose to commit suicide. Usually it comes from a place of shame. Being ashamed of themselves and who they are and it seemed some finally reach a point where it hurts so badly, they can't take it anymore.
Children are very susceptible to other children's views of themselves. Children have so much power over others when they bully. As a kid, it's really important to be accepted and liked and when you aren't, it's very hurtful.
Young children especially have a very hard time seeing the difference between reality and "make believe." They don't understand manipulation. Kids can be so conniving and being bullied really, some in ways, takes your identify from you and forces you to potentially be something you aren't.
One of the reasons I was bullied was because I was "playing" the non-traditional sport of autoracing. I would wear racing memorabilia to school after race weekend because that was what I was into. I remember specifically a time when I had placed third at an event in Indianapolis. When you place first, second or third, you receive a special hat and I was proud to wear it that week to school. A bully took it off my head and threw it in the trash and poured milk on it. I, too, was placed in the trashcan.
It was at that point that I decided to talk to my parents about it, and that gave me the courage to better stand up for myself and not be forced into the traditional sports sandbox the bullies were trying to force me into. The following week, the bully got my hat again, but this time I gave it to him. I had a race that past weekend and instead of placing third, I got first. I took the hat and autographed it and gave it back to the bully and said someday that will be worth something. After that, there wasn't much interest in stealing my hats anymore.
Now, nearly five years later, I'm racing for Andretti Autosport in the Star Mazda Championship Series in the No. 77 K12.com Mazda. There is no way I'd be where I am without the courage to talk to my parents about being bullied and getting advice on how to handle it.
There were many points in the film that were hard to watch, especially because it took me back to that place of being bullied. It reminded it how much it hurt and how we HAVE to find a solution so other kids don't have to endure that.
The BULLY movie is a documentary about peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America. It sheds light back on the fact that it takes a village to raise a child and we are all part of helping to correct this problem.
As a kid, I didn't share a lot with my parents -- most of us don't. This year, over 13 million American kids will be bullied, which is the most common form of violence kids experience. When you see someone being bullied, stand up and say something to someone. You won't just be standing up for yourself or for the person being bullied, but you'll be standing up for all those who endure it every day. It may not be personal for you at that moment, but more than likely, there will be a time when you too are bullied, and it WILL be personal then.
As a kid who was bullied in the public school system, I hope we can move away from dealing with bullying from a place of crisis and instead guide a bullying strategy rather than accepting it.