JACKSON — Kaleisha Hammond says she sees people picking on each other at school by saying mean things or shoving their classmates down in the hallways, and the seventh grader from South Pike Middle School says she wants to be part of the solution to bullying.
“Whatever you do to people, it can come back to haunt you,” Kaleisha, 12, said Wednesday after listening to a speaker at an anti-bullying conference in Jackson.
About 300 middle school students from across the state, along with teachers and counselors, attended the conference hosted by several state agencies, including the attorney general’s office and the departments of education and mental health.
The students will go back to school as peer counselors.
“Kids absorb a lot more when other kids are talking to them,” Attorney General Jim Hood said.
The students received advice on how to recognize when people are picking on others — and how to help the victims.
One of the first lessons: Don’t laugh when someone’s being bullied, even if the bullying seems not to bother the person. The victim might just be acting brave.
Milton Creagh, a motivational speaker from Atlanta, told the students and teachers about growing up in Chicago in the 1970s and being bullied at school.
Back when tall afros were fashionable, “I had a disease called ‘afro-won’t-grow,'” Creagh said, prompting laughter from the students. “People started teasing me because I had a bad hair day every day.”
Creagh said other students picked on him because he wore cheap sneakers, walked with a limp because he had a cast on one leg and was the first student in his school to get braces on his teeth — complete with a headgear that he had to wear 24 hours a day for six months.
He later attended college on athletic and academic scholarships and spoke at a public event with President Gerald Ford. Creagh said after graduation, he landed a corporate job because Ford, who was an ex-president by then, recommended that a golfing buddy should hire him.
Despite his success as an adult, Creagh said he still remembers vividly how it felt to be bullied, including how it hurt when students who weren’t the bullies laughed at the mean things that were said and done to him.
He encouraged the Mississippi students to reach out and help their classmates who are hurt by others.
“The truth of the matter is, you may save somebody’s life,” Creagh said.
Hood — who had two of his own three children at the training session Wednesday — said bullying is becoming more intense because some young people are spreading gossip or posting mean comments on social networking websites. He said parents should check their children’s text messages and know their children’s passwords to Facebook or other sites.
Hood said the conference and an anti-bullying website were funded by a $48,000 grant from the state Department of Public Safety.
Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press