Legacy Paris is a young woman who has turned years of being bullied into an opportunity to help others.

Legacy Paris is a young woman who has turned years of being bullied into an opportunity to help others.

“When you are bullied, you feel like a balloon,” Paris said to a group of 60 Greenville Elementary School fifth-graders Friday afternoon. “You have to be careful that you don’t let things build up so much inside you that you explode like a balloon that has too much air. You also can’t just let the air out so that you go flying around the room.”

Legacy, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Joseph Catholic School, said that during her own experience with bullying, she let the pressure build up until she broke down in a way she was not proud of. Now she reaches out to family and friends to make sure that she doesn’t let emotions build up to a dangerous level again.

Her father, Gary Paris, was at her side Friday as she shared the things she had learned and her message of hope for young people experiencing bullying with students at Greenville Elementary School, Southwood Elementary School and the Chester Hynes community center.

Gary Paris showed a framed document to the Greenville students.

“Legacy asked the [Pine Bluff] mayor [Carl A. Redus, Jr.] to support her anti-bullying efforts when she went before the City Council on March 5 and March 19,” Gary Paris said. “The mayor presented Legacy with a proclamation declaring March 30 International Stand up to Bullying Day in Pine Bluff.”

“How many of you have been bullied?” Legacy asked.

A scattering of five or six hands went up.

“Don’t be afraid,” Legacy said, and a few more hands went up.

“How does being bullied make you feel?”

The answers came in one-word responses: bad, terrible, sad, angry.

Legacy urged the students to make the truth an anti-bullying weapon.

“An eye for an eye makes the world blind,” Legacy said. “Even if it is hard for you, stand for the truth. You cannot stand on lies. Truth has the best foundation in the universe. If you keep standing on it, the dark will come to light.”

Legacy said that bullying can be both emotional and physical. In her case, it was mostly emotional. But she recounted one incident where the bullies ended up hurting her.

Gary Paris advised the students to write down any incidents when they are bullied or they witness other people being bullied.

“Have someone at school make copies and give one to your teacher, one to your principal and one to your parent,” Gary Paris said. “How many of you have seen Judge Judy or Joe Brown? You know that you need to have documentation with you. It is the same thing if you are being bullied. If you have the evidence about what is happening, you will prevail. When you have people standing with you, then you feel better and they feel better.”

Questions from the children

Legacy encouraged the students to ask her questions.

One child asked her if anyone had made fun of her name. Paris said yes, many times.

“I told them to stop, but they kept doing it and I talked to my teacher,” Legacy said. “You have tools you can use in situations where you are bullied. The thing to do is to learn how to address the situation without causing a scene. You need to be calm and assertive.”

Another child asked why bullies keep picking on the same little kid.

“They are like predators,” Legacy said. “If you’ve ever seen one of the wildlife channels, the lions will take down the weakest antelope. Bullies look for the smallest kids to pick on.”

Another child asked if the adults took her seriously.

“They did and sometimes they didn’t,” Legacy said. “Bullies will lie and if an adult believes the lie, that can hurt you at least for a while until the truth comes through.”

Principal Enright

Greenville Principal Karen Enright asked Legacy what adults can do to help students.

Legacy said many bullies act the way they do because they are frustrated by something in their lives. They feel down, so they try to pull others down with them, she said.

“Most of the reasons people bully is because they have a problem or are going through a hard time,” Paris said. “When you praise kids for effort, it makes them have more confidence. Kids who become doubtful about their efforts decline. Those who are praised excel.”

Enright said she was glad to have Legacy and her father at Greenville to inform the students about what bullying is and that when a child says, “stop,” it means stop.

“One of the things I have noticed is that verbal and emotional abuse is just as bad as physical abuse,” Enright said. “Kids around the world are getting bullied. I want our boys and girls to leave here today and say I will never bully again and mean it.”

Teacher perspectives

Fifth-grade teacher Cathy Glover said the discussion was an important one for her students.

“This is so that they can see the long-term effect of bullying,” Glover said. “The don’t realize that when a child gets bullied that affects their future and has even led to suicide.”

Glover said the problem of bullying and school violence is more serious than in the past.

“They don’t get a chance to be children anymore,” Glover said. “The worst thing I had to worry about growing up were spitballs and now we worry about kids bringing knives and guns to school. They have to grow up much too fast.”

Fifth-grade teacher D. Roaf said she wanted her students to get the message that bullying is nothing to be laughed at.

“They need to realize the facts about bullying and this will let them know that it is a serious offense and that they should not be doing it,” Roaf said. “There are more bullies now than in the past at all different levels. It is a sign of the times. We have single-parent homes and a lot of parents in the penal system.”