Statistically, a child is bullied every 7 minutes at school, and 85% of the time, no one intervenes. Because of this, 8% of students stay home out of fear being bullied.
*stats sourced from StompOutBullying.org
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of this important movement so I thought we should celebrate with a giveaway! One lucky reader will win a special Anti-Bullying prize pack** which includes a “You CAN sit with us” tank top, a “Send a Compliment” postcard book from ban.do, and an adorable unicorn pen to keep the good vibes flowing. Simply enter using the Rafflecopter widget below:
Melissa D. White is a strong, passionate, dedicated woman who works as a marketing genius by day and still finds time to be a mentor and a true champion for good when she’s away from her desk. She is the founder of Writing our Wrongs, a program which aims to combat bullying by empowering youth to activate their voice in positive and constructive ways through both writing and speech.
Q: Melissa, what inspired you to launch Writing our Wrongs?
A: I was inspired and greatly affected by the Mike Brown shooting in 2014. Some may wonder what does this have to do with bullying. It wasn’t just the incident itself, but the comments, actions and outrage that followed. We as adults not only see and feel the effects of our social condition, but our youth do too. I felt so hurt, angry and helpless. I couldn’t do anything but cry, write and pray. Journaling became cathartic for me again.
I can vote and use social justice platforms to express my thoughts, and I realized that our youth do not always have that same option and outlets when they feel wronged.
They saw the same video that we saw. They hear the same news stories that we do, and many of them are confused, concerned and afraid.
Who will speak for them? How will their aggression, confusion and frustration about the social condition of the world and even the daily battles with bullying and isolation be heard?
I knew then that I wanted to let them know they have a voice too. Writing Our Wrongs, Inc. started with a simple pledge. A card of affirmations to let our youth know they have a voice, that they matter, and that they can be heard.
The concept was to drop the free pledge cards off at schools and youth groups. I truthfully thought the idea was too simple; that it wouldn’t be impactful enough. But with the continued escalation of our social climate, increased suicide rate among youth, incline of cyber bullying and all that is wrong in the world, I had to go for it. I had to try. From that pledge card, Writing Our Wrongs, Inc. became a platform to empower youth to activate their voice through writing and speech.
Q: Have you personally experienced the negative effects of bullying?
A. Yes, I have experienced bullying as a kid and an adult. The funny thing is, I didn’t consider it bullying at the time. I just thought it was what kids did, saying mean or stupid things. As I got older I realized that those same bullies didn’t outgrow this behavior. It just developed in different ways of antagonizing actions towards others.
Q: How has bullying evolved with the rise of technology and social media?
A. The internet and social media add a dynamic of anonymity and boldness.
58% of kids say that someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online.
53% have said mean or hurtful things to someone online. I call it “keyboard courage.”
The sad reality is that kid bullies grow up to be adult bullies. Just read the comments under any trending topic today or any celebrity post and observe the mass aggressive, defaming and demeaning comments that are displayed. This level of antagonism didn’t just develop on social media, but it starts in the schools, on the playground and grows up into adult anger and mean behavior.
*stats sourced from StompOutBullying.org
Q. Who do you look to as a mentor or role model?
A. I admire the work of many thought leaders and youth advocates in social justice and anti-bullying such as my mother, Gwendolyn Smith, who has had her own non-profit for fifteen years, my pastor, Rachel Senior who also has a nonprofit to empower young women.
I have many mentors. I call them my round table. We are multifaceted as people, so I believe you should have a mentor to speak to every area of your life to help you grow and develop.
I am also inspired by the global humanitarianism of Malala Yousafzai, the literary works of Sonia Sanchez (she’s from my hometown of Birmingham, AL), and the team at the Anti-Defamation League has been hugely resourceful and reputable in their work against bullying and social injustice. There are so many more. I am blessed to have a tribe of influencers and change makers.
Q. What is your advice to others looking to start their own local programs for social change?
A. My best advice is to answer your calling! Don’t delay because there is someone waiting on what you have to offer the world. Start with what you have and grow from there. Research other organizations with a parallel mission and partner with them on your endeavors to pool your resources. The key is to move and stay steadfast.
The biggest challenge was getting out of my own way. I spent two years putting Writing Our Wrongs on the back burner because I thought my idea was too small.
Don’t negate the impact of small beginnings. After all, seeds start small and then take root to bloom as beautiful work for the world to see.
I overcame it because I couldn’t sit on my purpose anymore. I was agitated with the condition of the world, and agitation begets action. I wanted better for us as people, and more hope for our kids. Writing Our Wrongs is a seed planted for youth to grow courage to speak out and “write” their own wrongs.
The most rewarding outcome is when I hear the youth speak and write with boldness and new confidence after reading, believing and affirming the pledge. I am moved every time I see one of them sign and share a pledge card. I am grateful to sow this seed and call it my life’s work so far.
Q. You currently specialize in workshops for youth in the metro Atlanta area. How can parents and individuals across the nation become more involved?
A. We have recently booked program workshops in Alabama, Texas and Illinois, so we are beyond grateful to spread this message of empowerment and activate the voices of youth across the country.
I highly recommend for parents and youth influencers to talk to kids about what they see in our society today. Get a gauge on what they see online, what they heard in the news and at school and what other kids are saying. Then educate them on love, tolerance, researching and understanding others for themselves.
The most important thing is to notice behavior changes, check on kids and pay attention to how they are really doing. Really hear them out and remind them constantly of just how valuable their voices really are.
Make them aware of the biases and stereotypes that cause bullying. Let them know that bullying in any form is not okay. Empower them to write and encourage them to speak about what they feel.
Looking for ways to join the conversation?
The Anti-Defamation League (for youth and teen education and outreach)
The following are also some great literary resources for social action and anti-bullying:
Alley Oops (Ages 5-8)
Blubber (Ages 8-12)
Confessions of a Former Bully (Ages 8-12)
The Teen Guide to Global Action (Ages 12+)
A little more about Melissa D. White…
Melissa D. White is an Atlanta, GA based Youth Advocate, National Sales and Marketing Trainer and Public Speaker.
She’s passionate about seeing others connect to their purpose. She loves big hair, big dreams and chasing new adventures through her global travels.