I attended school in Brazil from kindergarten through my high school graduation at Northview in 1999.
I have since went on to complete my bachelor's of arts in counseling psychology with a minor in Biblical studies and recently completed my master of mental health counseling.
I have worked for the past five years with at-risk youth in Nashville, Tenn.
I suppose I'm in the field I'm in because I have a heart to help kids who feel voiceless and forgotten.
I suppose I have this heart for these kids because I know what it's like to feel voiceless and forgotten. I know what that feels like because while I received a quality education in Clay Community Schools, what I did not always receive was protection.
I was hard to miss in elementary school. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had bright, flaming red hair and freckles, and by the time I hit second-grade, I also hit 5-feet-tall. This meant that I was as tall as, if not taller than, some of my teachers in elementary school, and by the time I hit the fifth-grade, I was 5-feet-9.
I have not grown an inch since then.
I was also, what you would call, boisterous. I guarantee you that if you mention my name to Kenny Crabb, he will smile and say I was a firecracker.
I also gained a lot of weight as I grew taller and was noticeably larger than even the students several grades ahead of me.
Due to this, I endured endless bullying at school.
In the classroom, in the hallways, on the playground and on the bus. I'm sure only Mr. Crabb and my mother know just how many times my mother called or went to the school to address the bullying.
I came home every day in tears. I guess it was perpetuated by my refusal to fight back. You see, not only was I exceedingly sensitive and tender-hearted as a child, I was also keenly aware of my size difference and knew that if I fought back, I would really hurt someone.
Things did not improve in junior high. I was constantly harassed in the hallways. I, daily, had pencils, pens, eraser tops and even books thrown at me in the hallways. But still, nothing was done.
As I walked to my place in the lineup for gym class, other kids would moo like a cow or oink like a pig -- but still, the teacher would only sometimes tell them to stop.
I would consistently be pinned in a corner, having my shoulders pressed against the wall by a few boys who were also pulling my hair, while other boys touched me in very inappropriate places, and calling me names that I would call my worst enemy.
But still, nothing happened.
I actually had a teacher tell me that I brought it on myself and that it would stop if I would just lose weight. A teacher said this to me.
I begged my mother to homeschool me. I was constantly "sick" and tried to miss school. My mother went to the school so many times those two years, I think she had her own parking space.
Do you know what we were told?
"Ma'am, I'm sorry. There is nothing we can do unless a teacher reports it."
"Ma'am, I'm sorry. Teasing is a part of growing up and Mandy is just going to have to learn how to deal with it."
"Mandy, just ignore them."
"Mandy, one day, you won't even remember junior high, high school."
Well, guess what? I remember. I remember the embarrassment I felt as I was called those names in front of other people. I remember the shame it brought upon me to be acutely aware that I was so much different than everyone else.
I remember how alone I felt that no one seemed to understand how much pain I was in.
I remember how forgotten I felt when teachers would pass by me as other students threw things at me and/or said mean, hateful words to me and did nothing.
By the time I got into high school, the kids had backed off, but the damage was done.
I have literally spent years in therapy trying to undo what was done to me and those of you who are thinking that I'm being a "whiner," you were obviously never bullied.
Let's talk about that word. Bullied. The definition of that word in Webster's is to, "treat abusively whether in language or in behavior."
Synonyms include abuse, mistreat, kick around and brutalize.
So let's call bullying what it really is: Torture.
Bullying, in my opinion, consists of being called a few names and that's that. But others, like me, were tortured. Having people incessantly victimize you with their words and actions on a daily basis, year after year, is torture.
So imagine my dismay when I went and looked at the Clay County School District Home Page and only found the word bully referenced in the handbook in one short paragraph (which, by the way, the index says is on page 21, and it's on page 18), which does not even lay out what the punishment will be for bullying or how it will be enforced.
My favorite part is No. 3, which says, "Parents or students who suspect that repeated acts of bullying are taking place should report the matter to the school principal or designee. School personnel will investigate all reports of bullying."
This certainly did not happen when I was in school, and I only pray that it is happening now.
I did not write this to "diss" Clay County Schools. The fact is, I love Brazil, and always will. It is home. However, because of the cruelty I experienced there, I have dedicated my life to helping other young people to not feel alone and overlooked and forgotten and abused as I did.
I call on the school board to pass stricter, more aggressive, more comprehensive bullying policy in the Clay Community Schools system. I call on the school administration and principals to forget about "encouraging staff to abide by policy," and demand that all school personnel will understand that with every act of bullying that goes overlooked and swept under the rug, that one more child may be drawing closer and closer to the unfortunate epidemic of suicide that is crippling our nation.
I call on teachers, who are on the front lines in the classrooms, and hallways, to enforce a zero tolerance understanding toward bullying and to be the voice for the abused.
I call on the students to stand up to the bullies for their bullied, not be sinking to their level or in a violent or hateful way, but by letting them know that bullying is in no way "cool" and will not be tolerated by their peers.
I call on the parents to stop thinking that it's the job of the school system to teach their children morals and teach their children that cruelty and hatefulness will not be tolerated in their homes.
I call n the bullied to stand up for themselves and report when they are being bullied because no one can help you if they are unaware that it is happening.
It does not make you a nark to stand up for yourself.
I write this now to call upon Brazil to not fall into the stereotype of so many small towns that drag their feet on change and adapting modern principles.
The year barely had begun and we in Nashville, Tenn., have already had two youth take their own lives as a direct result of the bullying they endured.
As a bullied youth and as one who counsels those youth who are bullied today, I implore you to enforce stricter policies and consequences on those who bully in Clay Community Schools and show that hate and cruelty will not be tolerated.