Miss North Carolina USA brings anti-bullying campaign to Durham

Feb. 26, 2013 @ 06:12 PM

That old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a lie, Miss North Carolina USA told wide-eyed students Tuesday at Hope Valley Elementary School.

Ashley Mills launched her anti-bullying tour in Durham, telling the pre-teen audience that she was bullied in high school, and that the nasty things others said to her hurt.

“Words can often do more damage to kids than anything else,” she said. “Bullying is a serious issue. I think it’s important that children understand what their words are doing to their peers.”

When Mills asked students how many of them had bullied someone else, a few hands went up. But when she asked how many had been bullied, nearly everyone reached for the sky.

“How did it feel?” Mills asked.

Their replies included:

  • Wanting to cry.
  • Sadness.
  • Feeling isolated.

“Words can hurt people and cause them to doubt themselves; to change themselves,” Mills said. “But you’re here to learn, not to judge one another. You may not like someone, but it’s important to respect them.”

On a typical day, she said, 160,000 students in the United States stay home from school for fear of being bullied, and 87 percent of those who are bullied want to strike back against their abusers.

“Isn’t that scary, to know that your words could make somebody want to retaliate against you?” she asked.

Mills said the effects of bullying can last into adulthood, and even for a lifetime.

But she said students can be part of the solution, and asked everyone in the school gym to stand up and pledge not to bully and to help fight the problem.

Another way to help, she said, is for bystanders to speak up or intervene when they see someone being bullied.

“If you see bullying, step in and say: ‘Hey, that’s not right’,” Mills said.

Principal Micah Copeland said the school has worked to educate students about how bullying damages others.  He said those efforts are paying off, improving youngsters’ performance in the classroom and their relationships.

“It helps students to be successful in school,” he said. “And as we educate students and the community, we’re able to minimize the negative effects of bullying.”