01/17/2012 05:14 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2012

Bullying and the Legacy of MLK

What happens in and out of schools concerning students has received needed attention on the front of bullying. Just about anyone who has been through high school in America has been the victim of, or has witnessed bullying. It is the cruel nature of one person making another feel low, unworthy, and less human for an obscure and unimportant trait. Commonly the focus is on students that tend to stand out more easily, appear less confident, and more insecure, making them obvious targets. The reality is that all students are targets in various ways, and often times bullying is used as a form of confrontation to hurt their opponent on a personal level. No one is immune from the cursory perversion -- whether it is being singled out for race, orientation, choice, affiliation, gender, physical appearance, or intellectual ability.

Bullying is a form of bigotry where a person or a group of people are cast out and made to be the "other" just for being who they are. In doing so, it makes it easier for a mob mentality to take over because of the fear of being cast out like the current victim. The sense of separation or difference is a recurrent theme in history and literature, normally seen as a societal institution. What is happening with students today is not a segregation ruled by a set of laws, but rather by a set of cultural assumptions. These assumptions can be so quiet that they go almost unnoticed to many, where a careless joke or a snap judgment seems harmless and free of malice.

Often what is seen is the eruption. It is the hallway fight, everyday fear, or suicide attempt. The relentless verbal and physical abuse permeates into the fulfillment of happiness. Cultural values spoken in words and written on pages teach us that all people are created equal, and all should have access to the freedom of opportunity, but is this the assumption? When a student is made to feel as the "other" there is a direct limitation on his or her education and social standing. They are made to feel that they do not belong, that there are different rules for them, and live in fear. The victim of bullying cannot cash in the daily promissory note for the amount of inalienable freedom they deserve.

This is an identified injustice where more and more citizens are standing up and saying, "no more." It is a time to take direct action in the soul of each day in order to alter the silent cultural assumption that separating each other is a part of how society works. It is time to mature the common empathy that recognizes diversity as a source of prosperity, and confrontation as the root of stagnation. In the shadow of a dream, it is time broaden Martin Luther King Jr.'s core message on the segregated south and the slums of north into the lunch rooms, hallways, and social networks. It is a movement deep into a cultural disobedience where the flame of the bully is put out by denying the fuel of attention.

It is a lot to ask of a teenager to be an individual and not hide in the nook of a clique or as a faceless member of a crowd. In fact, it feels uneasy, even for adults, to appeal to the truth they know in the intense recesses of the heart. Yet there must be a reinvention of direct action. It may not be the spinning wheel of Gandhi or the rallies of King, but it can be done with the exact weapon of the bully. Social acceptability is how the bully defines one to be an "other" and how the freedom fighter reduces alienation. Direct action on this front asks you to be your own personality, and to recognize people not as groups, but as individuals equal in the evaluation of human rights.