Anti- Bullying Program Started By Mother After Losing Her Son To Bullying Makes A Difference
It is often said that the loss of a child is the greatest loss we can experience in our lifetime. For Jacki James, the tragic loss of her son Peyton, led her to establish an organization, Kindness Matters, that has brought the importance of kindness to over 13,000 students nationwide.
Three years ago, Peyton James was 13 years old when he took his life . After many years of being bullied, he couldn’t take it any more. But his legacy is Kindness Matters.
Peyton’s mother, Jacki James now runs the organization, which offers the Kindness Matters presentations to schools all over the U.S., helping children see how powerful their words can be, and how those words can change a life with just a simple act of kindness.
Unfortunately, Peyton’s story is not unique. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. It’s estimated that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. ABC News has reported that almost 30 percent of young students are either bullies or bullying victims, and because of fear of bullying, 160,000 kids stay home rather than go to school each day.
These are sobering statistics that make Jacki’s mission all the more important. Here’s our interview with Jacki, who has graciously given us a bit of her time to share her inspiring story.
Jacki, your son Peyton faced great adversity in his short lifetime, and for you, losing your child left you facing monumental adversity yourself. After losing Peyton, what made you pick up the pieces of your life and start the kindness matters organization?
To be honest, I didn’t plan to start an organization at first. After Peyton died, the mother of one of his friends told me a story that started the discussion. In the days after Peyton’s death, his good friend (a girl named Phoebe) was crying at school. The boy who had been Peyton’s primary bully found out why she was crying and he said to her, “I’m not surprised. That boy (Peyton) was a freak.” Phoebe punched him J. That event made me really start to think about what would drive a person, especially one so young, to be that hateful to another human being.
After, talking about the incident with my sister, I decided to put together a little Facebook page with the idea of sharing positive stories and just trying to lift people up – both people like my son and those like his bully. We had some t-shirts made and I spoke to the kids at the school where I work and then the story was picked up by a local newspaper and local TV stations. Before I knew it, everything exploded. I’ve now been to over 35 schools to talk about Peyton and the power of kindness and our little Facebook page has over 27,000 followers from all 50 states and 17 countries!
Did having something positive to focus on after such a great loss help you in your recovery?
Very much so. At first, I tried the traditional therapy and counseling thing, but it just wasn’t what I needed. Now, I see Kindness Matters and especially being able to talk to kids about Peyton and to hear their stories as my therapy. It allows me to talk about my son and it also has shown me that I’m not alone.
How long did it take you to come to the realization that you needed to do something to honor Peyton?
I knew right away that I wanted to do something, but I really didn’t know what it would be. As Peyton’s mom, I want people to remember him. He had this dream of being famous – he even started a YouTube channel and has 1, very shaky, video that might make you sea-sick! LOL. He just wanted to leave a mark on the world. Through Kindness Matters, I’m able to help him do that.
The logistics of starting an organization like this can be very time-consuming. How were you able to juggle your day job teaching with starting the kindness matters organization?
Becoming a federally recognized 501c3 nonprofit is indeed time consuming. There is a lot of legal paperwork to wade through. For that, I hired a company to help me so I wouldn’t miss anything. I used Legal Zoom, but there are several others. In the beginning, I just fit it in when I could, but because it was and is so important to me, I have to admit that I’ve sacrificed other things in my personal life to devote my time to Kindness Matters. I spent a lot of my time making phone calls, sending emails, interacting with people on social media, and reading articles online that I think will help us.
We also have a 5 member Board of Directors that really help keep things organized and running smoothly. Most of the day to day activities fall to me though. As for being able to go to other schools and miss work, I’m lucky enough to have an incredible principal, Dr. Davis Denny, who understands my need to follow this path.
What is your philosophy about overcoming adversity in life, as in our phrase, “fall down seven times, rise up eight”?
A lot of people have told me that I am strong or that they could never do what I do (speaking about Peyton and starting Kindness Matters). I don’t really see it that way. I rarely feel strong and certainly don’t feel like a “role model.” I just know that this is something I have to do – I don’t really have a choice in it. I think, for me, it comes down to having a goal and doing whatever it takes to reach it.
My goal is twofold –
- I want to protect other kids from feeling like Peyton did and
- I want people to remember him.
Those two ideas are what really help me push past any obstacles that I come up against. There are plenty of days that I don’t want to even get out of bed, but knowing that I have something that needs to be done and that I’m not finished yet helps to get me out of that dark place. Knowing that I can encourage other people simply by moving forward is often the kind of motivation I need to keep going.
How were you able to create the Peyton A. James Memorial scholarship at Texas A&M University?
Peyton always wanted to be a veterinarian; he made the decision when he was about 5 and never changed his mind. As he got older, we started to talk more seriously about it and looked at the vet schools in the country. Texas A&M is the top rated and is close to home. However, Peyton’s dad and I are both Texas Longhorns and Peyton was a huge Longhorn fan, so when he found out he would be going to A&M, he was not too happy! When he was 11 though, we went to the Vet School Open House at TAMU, and he fell in love with the school.
The Peyton A. James Memorial Scholarship allows us to help other kids with the same dream and to sort of send Peyton to vet school through them. Our scholarship has 2 parts—one part has already provided two $1000 scholarships to vet school students and the other part is called the endowment. Once the endowment side has $25,000 in its account, the scholarship will fund itself and will become permanent. Knowing that someone in 100 years will be getting Peyton’s scholarship makes me very happy and I know Peyton would be so tickled by it.
Starting the scholarship was actually very easy. I met with a member of the Texas A&M Foundation (the group that oversees the scholarships) and he walked me through everything that needed to be done in a few hours. I got to decide on the selection criteria and Kindness Matters provides the funds, but Texas A&M takes care of the recipient selection and the other administrative details.
From what I understand, your husband was with you through all of this. Is he a part of the organization? Are you running it yourself or do you have help from anyone?
Peyton’s father and I have been divorced for over 10 years and he is remarried. At this time, it works better for us to keep our lives separate. He is not part of Kindness Matters at all, although he does have his own organization to honor Peyton called the Peyton Heart Project.
Most of the day to day tasks fall to me, but we do have a 5 member Board of Directors that helps oversee a lot of what we do. The Board members are me, Janet Newton, Beth Milinsky, Tracy Moore, and Cindy Reynolds. These people are a tremendous support to me, not only through Kindness Matters, but as my friends too. I couldn’t do any of this without them.
Do you have advice for anyone else who is recovering from the loss of a child?
The most important thing I have learned is that there is no one “right way” to grieve. Every person has to do what works for them. Many people will try to tell you that you need to do this or that to feel better or to “get over it” but, the truth is, you will never “get over it.” Losing a child changes you down in the core of your soul and you have to figure out how to navigate this new world in a way that allows you to find peace.
Another important thing I’ve learned is that it’s ok to be happy and to find joy again. I’m still working on this part, to tell you the truth, but I’m getting better at it. At first, I felt guilty for having moments of happiness, but I’m starting to realize that, if I stay buried in my grief, then I’m not helping anyone, especially not myself.
And finally, find a place or people that allow you to talk about your child and encourage them to talk about him too.
Any advice for any parents who are dealing with children that are currently being bullied?
- Be willing to do whatever it takes to keep your child safe, both physically and mentally.
- Document everything – include dates, names and times of every event. You will need this information if the school refuses to act or it legal action needs to be taken.
- Be in contact with your child’s teachers and the school administration. If they are sympathetic to the situation, they are more likely to help. Not that they don’t want to help otherwise, but when its more personal to them, they’re more invested.
- Talk to your child and let them know that they’re safe with you and at home. Give them permission to talk, yell, vent, cry, whatever. And validate their feelings and experience. What may not be a big deal to you, may be life changing for them.
- Help your child come up with ways to avoid the bully. Get a schedule change at school if necessary. Be sure they always have a buddy with them and can’t be cornered alone. Do not encourage violence as that rarely helps the situation and often makes it worse.
- Get professional help for your child if the situation doesn’t get better or if you see huge changes in your child’s personality.
And how can people get in touch with you?
There are links on our website to our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.
As Jacki mentioned in the interview, there are some days that are difficult for her, but she values her mission above everything. She believes that her mission is not only important, but that she can save lives by spreading the Kindness Matters message, and for that we are grateful, because you never know when a word or a thought can change the world.
The Butterfly Effect, the scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever can apply here, and Jacki understands and respects this, not only through her words, but through her actions.
We hope that Jacki’s story will inspire you to join in spreading kindness to others in whatever way you can, to make this world a better place for everyone.
What are your thoughts on Jacki’s story? Please comment below.