DALLAS – One could hear the deep passion in the voice of Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews as he spoke about the issues of bullying and its impact on kids today.
“Every time I hear something across the country about kids bringing guns or weapons to school or suicides, or just anything that’s harmful to our youth due to a bullying situation, it just really makes my heart hurt,” Matthews said. “We’ve all been to school before, we’ve all witnessed (bullying), we’ve all seen it and we all can probably think back and know a kid who was affected by it. And we can look back at ourselves and see what we did about it or what we didn’t do about it.”
With the help of the Mavs, Matthews jumped feet first into the bullying issue while doing his part to help eradicate something that is seriously affecting kids today.
Earlier this month the Mavs partnered with Life Changing Experiences and brought a Free 2B Bullying Prevention program to middle schools in the Dallas Independent School District. The program is a 3-D interactive, multi-media movie which provides teenagers with the courage and skills to intervene and change bullying behaviors. Matthews and others convened at Sam Tasby Middle School, where they spread the word and challenged students to help put an end to bullying.
“I really like this program,” said Latisha Judie, a seventh grade counselor at Sam Tasby Middle School. “Having Life Changing Experiences, along with the Dallas Mavericks, is an absolutely impactful opportunity for our students.
“The students have really enjoyed this program, it’s very engaging and interactive for the students. So it means a lot for us to have this program out here.”
The bullying program’s awareness has skyrocketed head-first to the forefront because October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Katie Edwards, the director of community relations for the Mavs, hailed the program as a real eye-opener for students.
“It’s a great program where kids actually get to interact with a 3-D movie where they can learn about bullying behaviors and how to stop them, but also learn how to tell a teacher, how to stand up to a bully and how it’s not OK to bully kids in your school,” Edwards said. “I think it’s really important for the Mavs to be involved in something like this as far as a community initiative.”
Jamel Jacobs, the host representing Life Changing Experiences who showed the 3-D movie at Sam Tasby Middle School, was delighted to have the Mavs on board to assist him in getting his point across to the students.
“All week long we’ve teamed up with the Dallas Mavericks to present the program, which we’re highly thankful for,” Jacobs said. “It is also (National) Bullying Prevention Month, so I think it was a good time to be out here to bring forth the message and make it happen in an interactive way.”
As he spoke to the students, Matthews pointed out that the advent of social media outlets has taken bullying soaring through the roof.
“When we were growing up you just had to worry about (bullying) at school,” Matthews said. “Now everybody’s got social media platforms and you can see anything that anyone says about you. It’s just a whole other realm of fear for parents because you can’t do anything about it. The best thing that you can do is to educate the kids to police themselves.”
Judie knows that it helps to bring a person of Matthews’ stature to her campus to help educate her students about the evils of bullying.
“Having a celebrity — especially an athlete on top of that — come to speak to our students is huge,” Judie said. “It’s going to be very powerful coming from somebody that is elite, somebody who is seen as famous to the students, because they really look up to the people that are in the sports arena. So I think for the students they’re going to take that message more to heart.”
Although athletes’ words may be powerful and insightful, Matthews let it known that athletes get bullied, too.
“It’s kind of a double-edge sword being an athlete,” Matthews said. “I’m no better than anybody else in this room, but we have more responsibility by society because of who we are and what we do and that we are looked up to as heroes.”
“One of the definitions of bullying is the idea of imbalance of power, but we’re all made the same, we’re all made evenly. There’s no sense in you bullying anybody in the first place.”
Matthews sharing his thoughts on bullying was paramount to what Edwards and the Mavs were attempting to achieve in the DISD middle schools.
“I think it’s really great that Wes could come out today and talk to the kids about bullying and how it’s not OK,” Edwards said. “When they have someone like that come – their role model and an idol to them – for him to be able to come out and see them here at their school, it just brings excitement to it and really helps them understand the program better. He can talk to them about his experiences and what it was like for him growing up and what kids can do if there’s a bully in their school.”
Angel Perez, a 12-year old six-grader at Sam Tasby Middle School, said he was bullied at school. And the results weren’t pretty.
“I told my friends first,” Perez said, “and it ended up being a group fight.”
Because of the Free2B Bullying Prevention program, Perez now knows that if he’s bullied again, he said he will: “Tell a trusted adult, teacher or counselor.” He also said he learned that “bullying is not cool,” and that he’ll “go get an adult” if he sees someone being bullied.
Mavs guards Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell were also featured in the 3-D interactive multi-media movie which was played at Dallas ISD middle schools during the first week of October. And the visit by Matthews at Sam Tasby Middle School was the crown jewel.
“Wesley Matthews bein
g here today teaming up with Free 2B has brought more awareness and kept the kids more engaged with the message,” Jacobs said. “What we’re trying to do is bring folks an awareness about bullying by wrapping technology around our message. I’ve actually had several students come up to me after the presentation saying how impactful the message was as far their experience with being bullied. I get lots of handshakes and high-fives and thanks for coming out.”
Jacobs acknowledged that those who are bullies as a youngster often grow up to be bullies as an adult, and with devastating results. That’s why, he said, they must reach the students at an early age and actively try to get them to change their bullying ways while they are still young.
“I think it’s a really sad story about what happens every day,” Edwards said. “But there are kids who are bullied either in school or online through social media. And to hear about the really sad stories of suicide and kids who are just not getting through because of bullying, it’s something that can be stopped, something that’s preventable. So we’re really happy to be able to partner on something that can help fix that problem.”