Nonprofits build empathy, reduce trauma among bullied youth

Children Picking on Child in Classroom

Ray Washington needed an escape.

His mother worked three jobs to provide for him and his three siblings; so, he spent considerable time with his grandmother and cousins. Yet, some young family members found entertainment in taunting him.

They called Ray fat and spread rumors that he was gay. They even said that because of this, his father, who didn’t contribute to the family, didn’t love him. He retreated.

“I stayed more to myself as a child,” says Washington, a recent graduate of Ripley High School in Ripley, Tenn.

In middle school, he began opening up, joining clubs and playing football. But he found things got worse. The name calling and rumors had spread to his school. And Washington was getting into fights because he didn’t know how else to combat the provocations.

But, classmates weren’t the only ones who bullied Washington. Some teachers told him he would never amount to anything and that he wasn’t good enough to participate in the clubs he joined.

“Racism is a big issue where I am from. The teachers stereotype. They think black kids are not able to be successful,” says Washington, who was a West Tennessee Senior Level Rep for his high school at the Tennessee Association of Student Councils. He plans to study criminal justice with a concentration on courts and law at the University of Tennessee at Martin this fall.

Distressed there was no safe place for him, Washington cried himself to sleep at night and in eighth grade began cutting his arms. At school, he wore long sleeves or led people to believe the wounds were the result of football. By eighth grade, he was suicidal.

This story is published in full at, which is supported by the Ford Motor Company Fund to create a deeper understanding of the people and communities we serve. Read the full story here.

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