I finally settled in a house; however, the cable, power, and water payments were never made on time. Eviction notices were common, and finally, we lost our home to the bank which tore our family apart. I moved in with my father’s girlfriend which meant I had to accept sharing a room with five kids and sleeping on a single mattress with one cover to keep all of us warm. I was embarrassed to bring friends to my house because I was afraid that they would judge me because of my living conditions. They already bullied me at school because of the darkness of my skin and Haitian background. Every time the teacher turned out the lights, I was “missing.” They would say, “Where did Jackson go? Smile so we can see you!” and when the teacher turned the lights back on, everyone would shout, “There he is!” That never got old for them.
As the years passed, getting bullied resulted in me becoming a bully. As a bully I was always ostracized from clubs, gatherings, and school assemblies which was like adding gas to fire. Historically, only students who were well behaved attended assemblies and social events. My negative behavior prevented school-based and community organizations from including me in their activities. This, in turn, made me feel invisible.
Instead of locking people up and throwing away the key, it’s important to invest in them and show them another way. People need to be encouraged as to what they can do instead of telling them what they can’t do. Overlooking at-risk students is not the solution. To improve school climate and culture, we need more school-wide gatherings that create a safe place for all students, including those who show aggressive behavior, to come forward and connect with people and organizations that can help them.
I thank my teachers for providing me with the help I needed to become the successful leader I am today. Once I became resilient and full of hope, I was nominated to become a Be Strong Representative for the state of Florida by a student who experienced a story similar to mine. As a representative for Be Strong, I work in three key areas each month to change the culture in my school, community, and hearts of those around me. I am the voice and the change in my school. Be Strong has turned the tide on bullying and restored hope within many students by shifting their focus from negative behaviors to positive behaviors. I believe in a movement where teens are teaching teens and motivating each other. So, we need to identify student leaders who can help champion the change in behavior, teach students to be resilient, and encourage students to become the student and person they want to be. Together we can bring about the change we all aspire to achieve.