Big for Something: Melvin, Oregon
As a child I was filled with wonder and excitement about all the things young kids usually are excited about in SE Texas. Football, winning on Friday nights and food after football games away from home.
Unfortunately, as a smart kid that looked athletic, but didn’t have a strong ambition toward athletic achievement, I was constantly disappointed by my peers, teachers and coaches.
“Big for Nothing” is what the coaches called me. And they were right. My father could jump out of a gym and my brother was a 3-year varsity fullback. My brother’s nickname in high school was “Big Young.” Unlike me, he was big for something. For a sensitive kid who had a heart for poetry, reading books and science projects for fun, I wasn’t necessarily the proto-typical chip of the old block of my well-known relatives. I was like a fragment eventually found somewhere over there. Where I am from is the self-proclaimed football capital of the world. Because I wasn’t the typical black youth of my day, my peers and unfortunately, my superiors often met me with the eye of speculation and ridicule. The unfortunate truth is I could give hundreds of stories about being bullied and its impact on me but there’s one in particular that stands out as a marker for when I knew that I needed to figure out a way to take control.
I was in the bathroom after recess my seventh-grade year. I was at the urinal when I heard footsteps behind me. The footsteps got closer. Then a whisper of something mumbled by the figure behind me. I turned my head as far as I could to see what or who was behind me when it happened. I was called a “Punk Bi$*h”, and then bam. I was struck with a fist to my jaw. I don’t know how I fell, but I do remember how I woke up. On the filthy floor of a middle school bathroom with my pants halfway down my legs and my private parts exposed laying in my own urine. Eventually by luck a good friend with impeccable timing found me and helped me up. I put myself together and went to class. I sat in class dizzy, probably concussed and definitely confused. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and incapable of communicating this pain. I had few resources to help navigate my emotions. I didn’t trust the teachers or counselors at the school to create a safe place, and I resented the students, the school and the town I was from.
It has been almost 30 years since that incident. I would have never guessed it then but turns out in the real world there is a market for a poetry lover who reads a lot and likes science and theater. There was no “Glee” in this generation. For me the use of these talents has led to a career in leadership. I have traveled the world and helped many along their path to success. I have received numerous awards for no other reason but for being “me.” I have been married for 18 years, have three children, two of which are close to the same age as I was when this horrible situation happened. I tell them the same thing I am going to tell you now.
There will be a time in your life when you will find yourself figuratively on the floor of a public bathroom with your paints down in your own urine. You will wake up, and for a moment not even know how you got there. You will eventually remember and if you are lucky, someone will be there to reach out a hand to help you up. Grab it. Don’t stop there. Use the incident to communicate and help the person hurting more than you. The bully, the person, the anything. The truth is I have found myself on that figurative floor several times since that day. The difference is I know now what I didn’t know then.
Bullying creates the wall that disallows you from seeing your solution as it is. The emotional pain takes the place of hope and replaces it with despair. The despair could eventually lead to many things that could destroy you. If you understand that people who hurt you are hurting, it’s much easier to get up.
Teachers bully, kids bully, teams bully. Even parents unknowingly bully their children separating them from a child’s ability to take the first step towards healing.
I was not “Big for Nothing.” My power wasn’t in my biceps, or height. It was in my mind and in my heart, which is the hardest for people in pain to see. I was ‘Big for Something.” Something I could have never known in the 7th grade. I am thankful for all the help along the way that allowed me to remove the wall of despair for a future of possibilities.