I pulled up at Nicole's* middle school as the dismissal bell rang. Through the rearview mirror, I noticed my brown beauty racing toward the car, panic-stricken and panting. She slammed the door shut, flashing wide-eyed fear. “What’s wrong?!” I asked. A school bully, we’ll call her Crystal*, was bothering her.
I’d heard tearful tales about Crystal knocking Nicole into the lockers, calling her names or intimating that she needed a hot comb for her thick curly locks. But on this day, a group of students she led had chased my daughter from the third floor to the ground level, urging Crystal to “Kick that B*&%$@ a#@!”
What is this world coming to? Both my mom and niece said it was jealousy. All I know is the mean-girl phenomena is real. Sometimes it's a look, a sneer or a rolling of the eyes. I didn't care about the reason; I'd had it!
I had already called the school, spoken to the behaviorist and sat with the assistant principal. Other moms had shared horror stories about Crystal bullying their kids. Administrators interviewed students. They filed an incident report. But real consequences for Crystal? None. They told my husband Fred and me that we had to show a pattern of actions against Nicole. They could take limited action on “an isolated incident.”
Everything changed that moment in the car.
As my daughter described the incident, I whipped around and said, “Wait here. Don’t move.” Not waiting to cut the engine, I ran toward the building.
When upset, I tend to cuss folks out. Black women don’t play when it comes to our babies. Ever watched Animal Planet and witnessed a mama cheetah go full tilt at a hyena trying to eat her cubs? Whelp, that was me.
Within seconds, I spied Crystal. While I wanted to whoop her butt, I knew better. The headline flashed before me: “Mom Goes Berserk on Daughter’s Bully.”
Instead, I searched out a beloved teacher who had always had Nicole's back. At 5 foot 1, Ms. Foster* has a slight build but takes on a pit bull’s tenacity when it comes to standing up for students. She looked straight into my brown-rimmed glasses and said, “This is ridiculous! Tell them you will escalate the matter if this doesn't stop immediately."
This was my awakening.
According to anti-bullying policy in my state, when anyone uses words such as bully, bullying, conflict, hazing, victim and escalate, the school must act. Yet despite our going through “the proper channels” and allowing the school to “take care of things,” Nicole’s situation had worsened.
Those first five words describe the pain of the victim. They hadn’t worked. But the E-word? If you’re willing to walk that talk, it spells pain for the administrators.
I found the assistant principal. “You are not doing your job,” I admonished. Then I escalated my way over to the principal, getting her attention with a tap on the shoulder. Directly, respectfully, I asked her to partner with me. We parents don’t tend to confront a principal, who holds a position of power. I asked her to wield that power. And if she didn’t, I let her know my next stop would be the superintendent of schools. And if he did nothing? The cops. Honestly, I don’t know the school’s definition of "escalation," but I knew Fred and I were willing to escalate the situation, no matter how many meetings and visits it took.
I was grasping the power of being present. Seeing and hearing. Being seen and heard. We working parents can’t always be there for every PTO meeting, fundraiser or concert, but when we can be there, we should. If I hadn’t been there to witness the events as they unfolded, I’m not sure if I would have taken so many determined, decisive steps.
The following day, I met with the principal and the vice principal, explaining that my daughter was losing her “light.” I demanded to meet Crystal's parents, and I followed up daily. Most schools don’t want parents to meet for fear of repercussion by either side. I believe that’s part of the problem. By acting as a go-between instead of allowing the parents to have a controlled discussion, nothing gets resolved.
Days later, a secretary led my husband and me down a long corridor into 10-by-10-foot box of a room. It was just far enough away from civilization that if anyone popped off, no one would hear a sound.
I sat next to Fred and said: "Don't touch me, don't tap me under the table and don't try to calm me down. I am going to say everything I need to say." Opposite us was the vice principal and the bully's father. The principal sat in a neutral spot between the parties at the head of the table.
Armed with six pages of handwritten notes that I had taken while my daughter retold stories of taunting, mockery and bullying, I let my words spew out quickly, furiously. The air grew thick with tension.
Fred tapped and poked my leg. I couldn't feel a thing.
The faces in the room told the story. They were stunned.
Crystal’s Dad was empathetic, apologizing for the pain his daughter caused. But I could tell my words scorched him. Even after I’d suggested his daughter be placed into an alternative-learning environment, he’d kept his cool, but his shoulders squared off and his nostrils flared. Was it my bold, Black-girl badassery? Actually, I think it was Fred’s “don’t try me” resolve.
The bullying stopped. I was told the child’s father berated her at the school, and she ran out of the building screaming and crying. A little dramatic, yes. But if that’s what it took to stop the bullying, then I’ll take it.
Nicole is slowly returning to her old self, but she told me she still feels unwanted at school. The pain of bullying lingers.
Nicole also told me I was the talk of the school that day.
Then she said, “Thank you, Mommy.”
Anytime, baby girl. Anytime.
*Names have been changed