Fayette mom finds inspiration in son’s kindness to others

As the first day of school approached back in July, Nikki Rajahn decided to give her two oldest kids a confidence booster — a personalized T-shirt.

She would make it with Cricut — but the design could be all theirs.

Brooklyn, 4, wanted glitters and bows. What girl wouldn’t?

Six-year-old Blake, though, wanted to impart a message that would encourage someone who might feel alone. After a year of teasing by his classmates and often feeling like the odd boy out, he hoped the misery would stop with him.

I want a shirt that says I will be your friend, he told his mother. Anyone who doesn't have a friend will know that they have one already.

The sentiment didn’t surprise Rajahn, but it just about made her cry.

“I was so proud of him,” she said.

Much of Blake’s first year at North Fayette Elementary had been tough. Being a little guy, he was an easy target for school bus bullies. He didn’t complain a lot about being picked on, but every day he arrived home, Rajahn could see the defeat in his face.

To suddenly realize his experience hadn’t hardened him was like heaven opening up, a special moment to be shared.

Rajahn logged onto her Facebook page that evening to brag on her son.

After briefly recounting the conversation she had with Blake and his response, she ended the missive with this: “Never underestimate your kid’s heart for others! I love my sweet Blake! #stopbullying”

Although most bullying happens in middle school, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.

RELATED | Bullying: Would you know it if you saw it?

The most common types are social and verbal bullying like that experienced by Blake.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of those students who reported being bullied, 13% were made fun of, called names, or insulted; 12% were the subject of rumors; 5% were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5% were excluded from activities on purpose. The vast majority of them – 42% – reported bullying occurred in the school hallway or stairwell, 34% in the classroom, 22% in the cafeteria, 19% on the school grounds and 10% on the school bus.

Apparently, a lot of people can relate or at least empathize.

Rajahn said that when she wrote the Facebook post, she wanted to encourage parents to give their kids a voice.

“I think we tend to underestimate their compassion for others,” she said.

From there, things just took off. Over 2 million people — some as far away as the Philippines, New Zealand and Africa — responded, spawning a full-fledged anti-bullying campaign.

“It was kind of crazy,” Rajahn said recently. “I just thought it would inspire some local families because outside of my own family, that’s who most of my followers are.”

Even media had gotten wind of the post. Rajahn’s story was featured on “Good Morning America” and parenting blogs. Producers at both the “Today” show and Ellen DeGeneres’ show reached out and, two weeks later, Rajahn had launched I Will Be Your Friend, a nonprofit that raises money for random acts of kindness and supports other good causes.

“This is more than just words. We want people to know that we’re here for you,” she said. “We want to reach those who need friends.”

The notion inspired the #CricutBeKind campaign.

RELATED | Resolving to be kind

To spread their message even further, mother and son, taking inspiration from Blake’s original “I Will Be Your Friend” T-shirt, organized a schoolwide competition encouraging other students and kids in their community to submit anti-bullying designs and uplifting slogans.

The winning design, “Kindness Starts With a Smile” inside a multicolored heart, was cut and transferred onto T-shirts utilizing Cricut cutting machines and materials, and then distributed Nov. 12 to the school’s 600 students, faculty and staff in time for World Kindness Day (Nov. 13), celebrated annually to make the world a better place by promoting good deeds and pledging acts of kindness.

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In an effort to spread kindness nationwide, Cricut is adding the design to its companion software, Design Space, where Cricut users can join in and spread the message by creating shirts of their own.

When her husband purchased the Cricut in March, Rajahn said he hoped to provide her a creative outlet and help her maintain her sanity while taking care of their home and four small children.

Well, she’s in good shape but so too is Blake.

After the bullying escalated to hitting, Rajahn decided last month it would be best if he didn’t ride the school bus anymore.

But thanks to the two of them, we get to witness the love of God in a tangible way.

A portion of their T-shirt sales goes to the Real Life Center, a nonprofit that helps Fayette and Coweta county area families in crisis. The center is a partner of the Dogwood Church, where the Rajahns are active members.

The center is set to benefit once more from Blake’s generosity, his mom said, when the technology company Apivio donates a $1,000 prize awarded him for leadership.

Kindness. It’s the gift that can soften even a bully’s heart and just might change him, too.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.