Bullying victims: Don't suffer silently

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

I recall getting the invitation to my 25th class reunion at Dunbar Vocational High School in Chicago. I immediately called to mind a guy from high school; I'll call him "James." Now, some people think bullies are always older and bigger and taller. James attended classes with me; however, he was a weight lifter, wrestler and football player, while I, though taller, was kind of puny and ran track.

He'd stop me in the hallway and take my money and other things from me. He would threaten me and tell me I'd better bring him money the next day. He'd embarrass me in front of the girls and, of course, that embarrassment directly affected my self-image. You see, we are always told that boys should stand up for themselves. They should fight back. He would say, "Oh, Vic, I was just playing with you," but he would never give me back my money. I was fearful of him, and those fears lasted a very long time for me.

I did not go to my reunion because, in my mind, I dealt with how "James" would perceive me and how would I deal with him. I was haunted by his bullying 25 years later, even though I had gone on to accomplish some things in life: joined the military, worked in state government and served as a pastor. I questioned myself about how I would face the bully called James because he had been chosen to go to the Naval Academy. He had been bigger, badder, smarter and more popular. Often the experience of being bullied lasts a very long time, long into adulthood.

My own story informs what I have determined is necessary to overcome the fear of being bullied. What should you do then if you are being bullied? The first thing a person must do is not be afraid to tell someone. Many times I did not want to go to school, especially if "James" had told me to bring him some money to school that day. I had money because my mom and dad would give us money for the day or the week at school. I feared "James" would take it from me, but like so many other children who are bullied, I did not tell them what went on at school.

Secondly, you must recognize you have nothing to prove. Our society trains our children to get into situations because they are constantly trying to prove how tough they are. Everyone has to be tough. We have always had these tough guy movie stars -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, John Wayne and the like -- and if you don't have that persona, you are less than a man, less than a woman. But there are people you have no need to fight, and they're never going to fight fair anyway. Often bullies run in groups because they are basically insecure and fearful themselves. They hide behind the group or their size. They are intimidated by you.

Thirdly, you must overcome every myth regarding what being strong and courageous is all about. Being courageous is not being outnumbered, beaten to a pulp and possibly being seriously injured or killed because you "stood up" to someone. You must understand that it is not weak to tell someone -- perhaps your parents or report it to the proper authorities. Sometimes the incidents may need to be reported to the police. The law now is on the side of those being bullied. No one has to live with 25 years of fear. School is supposed to be a great experience, a memorable experience. No child should have to go through being bullied during such a special time of life.

Next, if you need to be in groups to feel a sense of safety, it's OK. Most often bullies wait to corner their victims alone because bullies are cowards. Walk in groups with people who like you and value you as a person, those who are your true friends, and they will be a source of comfort and security for you.

Finally after so long a time, I decided to face a 30-year fear. I attended my 30th year class reunion. Actually, it was "James" who notified me of that reunion through Facebook. My first thought was to give him a piece of my mind when I saw him. When I saw him at the reunion, however, I found that he had not gone on to the Naval Academy, nor was he as big or tough as I had made him in my mind. He also was somewhat humbled, perhaps by how his life had transpired, perhaps by his perception that his victim had risen above the intimidation to achieve wonderful things in his own life. I don't know. The point is that my perception too had been flawed. As is often the case, "James" was more of a perceived mountain than a real one. We spoke at length at our reunion and he never brought up the bullying. He only spoke of how well I had done with my life.

I encourage you then to give life time and a chance, and the bully ceases to be a bully. Your perception of life changes.

Victor L. Powell serves as presiding bishop of Rhema Word Cathedral, a growing congregation in southeast Dougherty County. A native of Chicago, Ill., he served nine years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Powell is a pastor to pastors and is locally, nationally and internationally recognized. He earned a bachelor's degree in theology from Moriah Institute of Biblical Studies and also received an honorary doctorate in biblical studies from Midwest Theological Institute of Indiana. Over the past two decades, he has traveled to and done missionary work on five continents, including trips to Guatemala, Ghana, Cameroon, Japan, and England.