By Reggie Ponder
Monday, April 24, 2017
CAMDEN — Singer-songwriter and anti-bullying activist Lizzie Sider told students at Camden Intermediate School Monday there are many reasons people bully others — but no good reasons.
Sider, 18, also underscored the notion that students aren’t alone in being bullied by asking everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands if they had ever been bullied or teased. When students were asked to open their eyes again, they saw that nearly every hand in the room was up.
Sider also distributed bracelets at the event containing the saying, “No one has the power to ruin your day.” According to Sider, it’s something her father said to her when she was being bullied in elementary school. It’s a message she found empowering and shares with students everywhere she goes, and it’s the name of her nonprofit, which sponsored her visit to Camden Intermediate School and the rest of her tour this week of schools across North Carolina.
This is Sider’s first school tour in North Carolina and Monday was the first time she had visited northeastern North Carolina. She said in an interview before Monday’s event that she wanted to begin her tour of North Carolina schools at Camden Intermediate because of the message she received from the school’s principal. Keisha Dobie, Camden Intermediate’s interim principal, told Sider of the recent tragic loss of a 12-year-old student at Camden Intermediate who took her own life and the school’s commitment to heal and recover.
“She said, ‘we’re grieving and we’re trying to heal and we’re in a healing process,'” Sider said. “And of course, something as compelling as that, of course I couldn’t say ‘no.'”
The assembly, held in the school’s gym, built up to two songs Sider performed for the students. She had groups of students and teachers back her up on tambourines and maracas — and led the kids on a march around the gym — as she sang Taylor Swift’s anti-bullying anthem, “Mean.”
Sider closed with her personal account of her own experiences with bullying, including coming to the realization that she could rise above the cruel things people said to her, in her song, “Butterfly.”
The students were ready for the song. Many sang along with Sider, and students’ artwork depicting butterflies decorated the walls of the school’s gym.
Sider said that during the past two years she has performed at more than 350 schools across the country. There are core points she emphasizes at each one but she also tailors the message to the specific school.
“I tailor the tone and the flow just to make it as organic and as authentic for the kids as possible,” she said.
The students responded with energy and enthusiasm, and Dobie remarked after the assembly that she believed the program succeeded in conveying messages of unity and excitement about being at school and learning.
Dobie opened the assembly by reminding students that they are not alone and that they need to depend on each other.
“This is a nice way for us to kick off these least few days that we have in this school year,” Dobie told students.
Sider told students that when she was around their age a group of kids teased her, excluded her from lunch and other activities, and called her names. She sang the National Anthem at a Boston Red Sox game when she was 9, but was so anxiety-ridden about a video of that moment being shown at her school that she cowered in her chair as it was played for the other students.
But not long after that her father told her his encouraging words — “No one has the power to ruin your day” — and she took the message to heart.
“We have the power within ourselves to overcome whatever we are going through,” she said.
Sider then had the kids repeat the motto together. “Anything that we put our minds to, we can do,” she said.
Suder cited some well-known people — Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Rihanna, Steve Jobs — and said all of them were teased at some point but went on to accomplish big things.
She asked the kids why people bully others, and got three solid answers: Because they have been bullied themselves; because they’re jealous; because something bad or embarrassing has happened to them.
None of these, Sider said, should be a reason to bully anyone. Instead, you should talk to someone about how you feel, she said.
Sider said there were times when she saw someone being bullied and did nothing about it. But the times she did do something, she said, it was absolutely worth it.
“The smallest act of kindness went the longest way,” she said. “It is our duty, and it is our job, to look after each other.”