- Fiza Pirani The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
This story has been updated.
A video posted by Tennessee mom Kimberly Jones Friday of her bullied son’s heartbreaking experience has been making the rounds on social media and inspiring thousands, including big-name celebrities such as actors Millie Bobby Brown and Chris Evans, rapper Snoop Dogg and more.
In the video, Jones’ 11-year-old son, Keaton, tearfully tells viewers that students made fun of the way he looks, poured milk on him and put ham down his clothes.
Students told him he had no friends.
When Jones asked him how that made him feel, Keaton said, “I don't like that they do it to me. And I, for sure, don't like that they do it to other people, cause it's not OK! People that are different don't need to be criticized about it. It's not their fault."
While sobbing, Keaton offered some advice to other victims of bullying. He said, “But if you are made fun of, just don't let it bother you. Just stay strong, I guess. It's hard. But ... it'll probably get better one day."
Jones, uploaded the video to Facebook on Friday, writing that she was once again picking up her son early from school, because he was too afraid to go to lunch.
According to Jones, recording the video was Keaton's idea.
But as the video circulated online, many people began taking interest in the Jones family’s background. According to NPR, reports emerged Monday that Jones had multiple images of Confederate flags on her Facebook account, which is now private.
Later, a GoFundMe campaign started by a man named Joseph Lam in the name of Jones and her son raised more than $58,000. The campaign is no longer accepting donations.
Lam shared an update to the campaign, which is no longer accepting donations, and wrote, “As many of you know I paused the donations as well as the comments. As I sit back and read these comments and watched the video again I feel I have to make this update. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE MOM!! However passing judgement on her before you know her is a form of bullying.”
In a statement to People regarding the Confederate flag photos, Jones said, “The only two photos — the only two photos on my entire planet that I am anywhere near a Confederate flag. It was ironic.”
Jones repeatedly said there was no racist intent behind the photos and that those close to her know she’s not racist, People reported.
“It was meant to be ironic and funny … I am genuinely truly sorry. If I could take it back, I would,” she said.
ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who on Sunday invited Keaton to visit ESPN as her guest and lauded him for his courage in the viral video, took to Twitter Monday to address his mother’s Facebook account as a “teachable moment.”
Jones’ harrowing video, which migrated to Twitter and was picked up by multiple outlets was viewed more than 20 million times. Hundreds of thousands of people have shared the video on their own social media profiles, including celebrities and public figures.
Some, like Chris Evans, invited Keaton and his mom to the Los Angeles, California, premiere of the next “Avengers” movie.
Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker invited Keaton and his family to watch the Titans play the Jacksonville Jaguars on New Year’s Eve.
Actor Mark Ruffalo wrote that he, too, was bullied as a kid. “You got a pal in the Hulk,” he tweeted.
That’s only a handful of the scores of folks who spoke out against bullying and shared Keaton’s story.
According to StopBullying.gov, 28 percent of students in grades six through 12 and 20 percent of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying.
More than 70 percent of young people said they’ve seen bullying in their schools.
“Research indicates that persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior,” the website notes.
According to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied by others are at an increased risk of suicide-related behaviors. It’s important to note, however, that there is not enough information to state that bullying directly causes suicide-related behavior.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year, the CDC reported. Since the 1940s, suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled.
Here are some helpful resources for parents, schools and fellow students to help combat youth bullying:
- Information on the relationship between bullying and suicide (CDC)
- Warning signs for bullying
- Federal resources on responding to bullying: stopbullying.gov/respond and stopbullying.gov/prevention
- Federal resources on supporting youth involved in bullying and empowering bystanders: stopbullying.gov/roles-kids-play, stopbullying.gov/support-kids-involved and stopbullying.gov/be-more-than-a-bystander
- Anti-bullying policy information
- Social learning approach: The Good Behavior Game and Steps to Respect: Bullying prevention for elementary school
- How to foster school connectedness (CDC)
- How to prevent suicide through school connectedness (CDC)
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, or if you are concerned for someone else, here are some helpful resources: