I had been warned long before I attended Washington High School in Atlanta that it was the most violent school on the Southwest side of town. Now I was seeing it for myself. As a freshman at the dawn of the 1970s, I was shy, skinny and fresh meat for juniors and seniors to intimidate.
Every loud-mouthed, swaggering bully wanting to make a name for himself walked our halls daring us fightened freshmen to look their way. They’d slam us into lockers, knock our books out of our hands, take our lunch money and dare you to tell anyone!
After my second week, I honestly don’t remember going to the men’s room ever again. The cigarette smoke was so thick — students rolling dice for money, screaming and laughing — you were just asking to get abused by going in there. So I waited until I got home.
My memory of the school cafeteria was like some crazed prison atmosphere. It was wild, nerve-wracking and full of surprises. You had your popular students off to themselves. The bullies ran in packs. Teachers seemed in and out of there in a hurry and we freshmen acted like nervous deer trying to eat and run.
It got to the point that my friends and I decided to bring lunch and eat while watching the marching band or football teams practice. For me, this episode in my life was like an experiment in terror. I didn’t tell my parents because what could they do? It was the way many high schools were in black neighborhoods.
Early in the morning in our homeroom before the bell rung for class, bullies would dash into our room and terrorize the students, shoving us around.
One day my friends and I got tired of these bullies. We decided we were going to stand up to them and have it out! There were two bullies in particular who ravaged our homeroom class, putting my friends in headlocks, pounding their heads together, slapping them in the face and shoving me in my seat!
There were four of us and two of them. We agreed if we took a united stand we could bring these bullies down and be looked upon as — well, “heroes?” So we made a plan and even discussed the possibility that fighting these guys to a standstill might make us popular with the girls!
We all went home and prepared for battle. In the mirror, I ducked, I swung, I jumped up in the air and delivered a devastating karate kick. Three lefts to the chin, followed by a lightning-quick right hook and my bully was down and out! Now I could go help my friends and the three of us would clobber the remaining bully! Our class would cheer us on to victory!
I was nervous but excited at the same time. When I went to school that next morning two of my three friends were ready and determined to stand up to the bullies. One of them was suddenly shaking, uncertain and trying to talk us into reconsidering.
As we were talking about which two of us would be best to fight which bully, the bullies came running into the room! They ran right up to one of my friends and slung him into the chairs!
My other two friends ran for cover. It was like we never had a plan! I stood my ground only to be hit in the chest! I didn’t even swing back. They ran past me, caught my friends who were running and threw them around the room. My friend who was slung into the chairs started calling the bullies names and stood near me.
The bullies laughed and ran out our classroom into the next class before the morning bell rung. We picked up our chairs but I don’t remember any of us saying much. We were all mad and humiliated. I still don’t remember exactly how the bullying stopped but it did stop soon after that. The saying is true, “It gets better.” I think telling especially helps.
For me, education was a byproduct to survival at Washington High. I only went there for a semester or two before moving to another city. But being bullied was a terrifying time in my youth that saw little intervention from teachers when reported and far too many incidents I was too afraid to report.
The only time bullying completely disappeared in my youth was when I decided to share God’s Word with my schoolmates. There is something about sharing Scriptures like Psalm 37:10, 40 about a time when God will no longer tolerate bullies or oppression that can make the meanest kids rethink being bullies.
Psalm 72:12-14 says, “He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them. He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them. He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.” — New Living Translation.
Proverbs 16:7 adds, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
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