Thirty-eight years after he was a sixth-grader at a school in Jamaica, Mark Brown clearly remembers the names and faces of three female classmates who mocked the "skinny, knock-kneed, buck-toothed" boy that he was.
"One even sent their brother to beat me up after school, and I don't even know why she would do that," said Brown, who now lives in Georgia and travels to about 200 schools across the country each year, spreading the word about the impact of bullying.
He shared his message with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Warren Elementary Wednesday, telling his own story and those that have been shared with him by students across the nation.
KATE YORK The Marietta Times
Mark Brown presents an anti-bullying program to Warren Elementary students Wednesday.
Brown uses humor throughout his presentation but also carries a pocket-sized pack of tissues with him to every school, he said, because without fail there are students at each one who face name-calling, rumors and physical attacks every day.
"There are people here right now who know deep down how I felt 38 years ago and individuals in these bleachers right now who are responsible for that," Brown told the students. "Think about 38 years from now how people will feel when they hear your name again."
The issue of bullying has been in the headlines often recently, with several teen suicides reportedly linked to being tormented in school and three students in Massachusetts charged with harassment and civil rights violations after their bullying allegedly led to the suicide of classmate Phoebe Prince in January.
About Mark Brown
Brown offers his Emmy-nominated "Words Count" anti-bullying presentation across North America, with the program sponsored by QSP, a division of Time Inc.
Brown is a native of Kingston, Jamaica, who moved to the U.S. at age 18 and began a career in public speaking after working at Reader's Digest.
Brown said text messages and social networking Web sites give students an often-anonymous way to put down others and a way to avoid seeing the consequences of their actions, or what he calls giving in to "the big lie."
"That's when someone says they were just kidding, they didn't mean to hurt anyone and what's the big deal?" he said. "There is an impact, even if you don't see it."
Technology-based taunts and name-calling are frequent forms of bullying locally, said Warren students.
"Doing it that way they don't see how badly the other person gets hurt," said sixth-grader Megan Weekley, 12.
"Most of what happens here is verbal, rumors and all that stuff," said sixth-grader Levi Childers, 12. "It's not really fighting."
The words can be just as devastating, Brown told the students.
He shared stories of children, who, like Prince, feel like giving up because they're left out or tormented by peers.
They include an eighth-grade boy he met who ate lunch every day in the principal's office to avoid teasing after a medication caused him to gain weight and a fifth-grade girl who wrote him, heartbroken because of names her classmates called her every day.
"This is someone's little girl, someone's baby sister who hears the words 'slut' and 'whore' in her face everyday," Brown said. "She couldn't even spell the word 'whore' because she's 10 years old and she doesn't know how to spell it."
Brown, who has been speaking about bullying for 14 years, said he was inspired by a lesson he shared with his own three children while watching the scene from "Beauty and the Beast" when villagers are led with weapons through the woods to try to kill the Beast.
The song they sang included the lyrics "We don't like what we don't understand," said Brown.
"It hit me that young people bring their guns, knives and clubs to school with them every day," he said. "By guns I mean our words, by knives our attitudes and by clubs the way we decide to treat kids we don't like or don't understand because they look or sound different from us."
Brown encouraged students to not only not bully but to not be "villagers," following someone who is bullying without really knowing why.
"The message was to treat others the same way we would want to be treated," said sixth-grader Hannah Saho, 12. "I think hearing all that makes a difference."