Tina is a good friend and colleague of mine. Every year she helps Best You Best Me organize an annual charity event in McDowell, West Virginia. While we were preparing for the most recent one, I overheard a story about her son being bullied at school. A few weeks later, Tina and her sons volunteered at the event. Seeing them do great work, I went over to say hello. Jackson seemed startled by my hug and ducked away from me as if I was trying to hit him. That broke my heart. I have experienced bullying myself and could relate to this boy’s pain and trauma.
After the event, I started thinking about ways I could help. I knew Jackson had a loving and supportive family, but I thought that perhaps my contribution could still be meaningful.
I love sports, and I’ve trained in Muay Thai. Knowing how empowering martial arts can be, I thought it might be a good solution for Jackson’s situation.
The next thing I knew, I was in Winchester pitching my idea to the owner of Boyce’s Martial Arts Academy. She told me that her academy teaches its students self-defense, discipline, and respect so that they can make good choices in life.
Martial Arts is such a positive outlet; it's more than kicks and punches; it's life lessons; it's how you are going to handle yourself in the future. Students can later incorporate those into their work and relationships.
Next week, Tina and I sat down and had a conversation. Her son was going through more than any kid should. Tina told me how another student hurt Jackson, how he’s also been experiencing virtual bullying, and how little the school has done to resolve it.
The boy pushed him in the back, and when Jackson fell, he started kicking him in the head; the outcome was that the boy was suspended for three days. The assaults were recorded and posted on Snapchat.
I planned to start Jackson’s empowerment by sponsoring him and his brother to train for one year at Boyce’s Academy. I was now more eager than ever to put it into action. Tina welcomed my plan with tears in her eyes. I believe we both felt this could lead to a solution.
Six months later, I returned to attend their training and check the progress. It was heartwarming. Jackson was sparring with other kids and adults without fear; I could see a difference in his attitude and body language. Nathaniel was enjoying the training too. Master Tracy, Jackson’s trainer, told us that Jackson had overcome many challenges.
At first, he was one of the kids that didn't want the test, and it was because he didn't feel he would be able to succeed. Hearing that he was bullied made me dig my heels more to convince him that he needed to do the test, and he did it; he passed.
Jackson told us that the academy helped him a lot and that he is gaining more confidence.
Anytime someone threw a punch, I'd be a little scared even if it didn't hit. But now, when I see someone throwing a punch, I'll block it. I can defend myself properly. Even if you are here for a little while, it teaches you the basics, and if you're in a certain predicament, it teaches you how to get out.
I was impressed by how hard the brothers have been training and how much their mother has supported them. She said that Jackson has moved on to high school, where he faces new challenges. However, she believes that the skills he is learning now will help him as he advances into adulthood.
I wasn’t just there to check up on the progress. I had a big surprise for them.
On behalf of BYBM, I rewarded boys for hard work with trophies and $10k to help them with education and encourage them further on their journeys. This was a momentous occasion and a project that was close to my heart. But it is not ending there, as we hope Jackson’s story will inspire other kids and parents to overcome bullying themselves.
Tina’s parting words for the parents are:
Let your child know that you are there for anything, that they can tell you anything, that you can work through anything.