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Grown-up victims of bullying share advice for students
Standing in front of students at O.C. Johnson Elementary School in his “No Bully Zone” T-shirt, professional mixed martial arts fighter Carlos “The Yuma Prodigy” Flores spoke about how he used to dread riding the bus as a kid because it was there that he was continually bullied to join a gang.
He remembers one day in particular when a student punched him so hard that he fractured his jaw.
“When I was a kid growing up and having that problem, being bullied, it was bad. But you know what I did? I made sure I told somebody what was going on ...
“If you don't tell somebody, then you can't be helped. It's very important — you have teachers here, you have friends, grandma, dad, mom — find an adult you respect.”
During the discussion, students asked Flores questions like “Why do bullies exist?” and “What if you get bullied and then you become a bully?” and “What if you're being bullied and there's no one around?”
Flores, along with other local athletes, have been speaking to students in the Yuma area as part of his recently created “Battered and Bullied No More” anti-bullying campaign. He explained that after being a part of MMA fighting for the past 10 years, he feels he's in a place in his life where he wants to also give back and help others.
“I started ‘Bullied and Battered No More' and started going to different places to talk about bullying because it has gotten so bad, I just decided that I wanted to make a difference.”
Professional Baja bike racer Alonzo Dominguez with Pirruñas Racing, who also spoke at the assembly, said he wanted to jump on the opportunity to present with Flores to help positively impact students, as he too was bullied as a kid.
“Kids look up to me and my racing team, and I want to reach out to them,” Dominguez said.
Justified, a local clothing line owned by Kevin and Dundee Dempsey, is also supporting Flores in his campaign.
Dundee said that when meeting with kids who think they can't do something and have been told that by others their whole lives, when they meet people like Flores and Dominguez, they become inspired.
“Our goal is to get out the message that kids should do whatever they love to do and put in that extra effort to realize that dream ... It's so important for our kids right now to have good role models.”
She added that for most, it takes about three days to kick a bad habit. If students choose to stop bullying today, by this weekend it can potentially be something of their past.
Third-grade teacher Alaina Sanders said she invited Flores to come speak at their campus after finding out about his campaign on Facebook.
“I saw that and I thought, ‘You know what — we, as well as all other schools, all of us need any education we can get on no bullying.”
Sanders said that before the assembly, she had her students participate in a classroom exercise. Each was given a new sheet of paper, fresh out of the package, and told to beat it up, crumple it and stomp on it.
She then showed them another sheet of clean paper and told them to try and get their paper to look like hers, and they quickly realized that it was impossible to do.
“I explained to them then that those wrinkles and the dirty marks from their shoes and everything are like the scars that you leave behind on other students that you bully. Scars will never go away ... Even myself as an adult being bullied as a child, I still remember who bullied me, what they did, what they looked like, how horrible it made me feel.
“There was a point of time where I bullied other kids ... It never made me feel good to be a bully, and I did it maybe once or twice and then I never did it again because it made me feel horrible. I knew in my mind it wasn't OK that I didn't feel good about it ,and I didn't do it anymore.”
For more information, contact Flores on his “Battered and Bullied No More” Facebook page.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.