"I was a victim and a bully and I could have continued that cycle of violence, but I didn’t. I chose a different path."
NIOS Director Becki Cohn-Vargas met teen Melvin Mendez when he contacted her for support around his senior project on bullying at Lighthouse Charter School in Oakland, CA. Over the course of the year, she and Melvin met many times as he planned an ambitious project to research bullying and then proceed to educate his teachers, along with fellow students and parents.
She discovered later that she was the first person who heard his story of being bullied, one that not even his mother learned until recently. Now Melvin has begun to train fifth graders at his school. Melvin received a standing ovation when he delivered this speech to afterschool coordinators and teachers at the Bridging the Bay Conference in Oakland, CA on Feb. 2.
By Melvin Mendez
My name is Melvin Mendez and this is part of my story. During my elementary years I suffered a lot because I was ostracized, bullied and beat up by my classmates and students who were two to three years older than me. I was weaker and smaller than the other kids in my school and because of this, most of my classmates would make fun of me and started pushing me around. I was always scared to go into school because there was always someone waiting for me to get there so they could beat me up.
In the third grade, I was the one that always got picked on because I never did anything about it. For this reason, I would get beaten up by several students in the bathroom and I would constantly be threatened with more violence if I were to tell anyone. They knew I wouldn’t tell anyone. I felt alone and helpless.
I wanted to seek help, but the threats were always in my head. I was helpless, frightened and clueless about what to do. As a result I felt depressed and lonely because I was scared about not getting the help. As time passed, I got tired of being bullied and made fun of, so I started to hang out with the wrong crowd and made terrible decisions.
Anger built up inside of me and I wanted vengeance against those who made me suffer. I decided it was time for payback, so I started to bully others in order to make myself seem strong. At first I felt pleased with what I was doing because I felt strong and in control, but I soon realized that the pain I went through as a child was the same pain I was making others go through. After seeing those kids who I bullied run into to bathroom to cry, I figured out that I was making a mistake because I saw myself in those that I harmed. I too had felt like a defenseless child, who was scared of taking action due to the constant threats.
With time, I eventually reflected and realized that I was doing the wrong thing and decided to stop hurting others for something that wasn’t their fault. Today I am working with Dr. Vargas, NIOS Director, and Lighthouse Community Charter School to help kids realize that they are not alone and they can always count on adults to help them out. I will help parents and teachers be aware of the signs of bullying and how they can intervene.
I want to be a role model and inspire others that are at risk of becoming a statistic. I also want to help those who are victims of bullying realize that there are people who are willing to help. As for those who are bullies, I want to help them by talking to them and making them realize that what they are doing is wrong and have them reflect on the impact of their actions. I want to help them stop the cycle of violence, so they won’t keep bullying others.
I was a victim and a bully and I could have continued that cycle of violence, but I didn’t. I chose a different path. I want to succeed and I’m on the right path. I am 18-years-old, born and raised in East Oakland. I’m a senior at Lighthouse Community Charter High School and I will be the first one in my family to graduate from high school and go to college. I have applied to eleven universities and colleges and have been admitted to three of them already. I will major in Psychology and plan to come back to Oakland to give back to the community that has made me the person I am today.
I have learned that life will take us through struggles and bad experiences, but we must be brave to seek help and things will get better because we have the ability to help those that are bullied. Today I challenge every one of you to stand up against bullying. If you see anyone being bullied, go tell an adult or step in and help stop it and if you are a victim please tell someone you trust, because in the end we all should feel safe and secure in our own community. As members of this community we all need to persist and strive for success. We have the ability to see the signs and stop bullying. We have the ability to make our community thrive as a supportive, unified and compassionate place and make our community and our world a better and safer place to live in.