DETROIT - It's a dark and often silent place that one of four teens lives in; a place where you are made to feel worthless.
It's called being bullied and believe it or not, I dealt with it throughout my entire childhood.
When I was in fourth grade, I loved school to the point I'd plead with my parents to let me go even if I wasn't feeling well. I strived for perfect attendance and left class every day with a smile. But by fifth grade, I was forced to change schools because of district cutbacks. That's when my nightmare began.
Smart kids didn't like me because I was a straight "A" student and they felt threatened. The cool girls didn't like me because I danced at a different studio than they did. They taunted me following competitions, but it hit an all-time low when one girl's mom, who worked at the school, physically grabbed me and harassed me in the school. I remember telling my mom that maybe if I got in trouble and had my name put on the board in class, the bullies would stop. She looked me in the eyes and said. "Ashlee that isn't who you are or what you stand for. Stay true to yourself."
Following the harassment, I'd walk into school with my head down. The child that once couldn't wipe the grin off her face, no longer remembered what it felt like to smile. I left class sick to my stomach, but I wouldn't tell anyone in fear that it would only get worse; I didn't want to be labeled as a tattle-tale.
My mom saw her happy daughter fading and wanted to reach out to my teacher. I begged her not to. Despite my request, she secretly called her.
My teacher had no idea what was happening at school and told my mom that she was considering calling her because she noticed that I had become depressed and thought maybe I was having problems at home. The teacher promised to keep a close eye on the situation and it helped at school, but that was only a partial fix. The place that was my comfort zone quickly became a bully battleground, the dance studio.
My success at dance, stirred up turmoil at the studio I once loved spending time at and it wasn't just the kids. Parents gossiped after I won awards. They would call me "the teacher's favorite" and passed down their negative attitudes to their children who were my friends and peers. I remember having a heart-to-heart conversation with my dance teacher. She looked me in the eyes and asked if I wanted to win. I said "yes." She said, "Learn to ignore them. They won't stop until you stop winning."
The bullying continued in high school. I was on track to graduate valedictorian, mingled with various social groups, and won national dance awards. My accomplishments were overshadowed by bullies from girls vandalizing my car to them targeting me on the internet. That was at the beginning of the cyber-bullying era we now live in.
My senior year, a friend-turned-bully hacked into my e-mail and spread personal emails to others at school. She even hacked into our teacher's account and tried to make it look like I did it. That was followed by death threats online and that was the final straw. I decided to take action and go to the police.
My mom's advice to me was to counteract it by bettering myself and not to lower myself to their level.
That has stuck with me. My life motto: "Be better, not bitter."
I threw myself into my classes at the University of Michigan, won the coveted Miss Michigan crown and I now have the honor of waking up to a job I love. I hope sharing my story helps break the silence and creates an open dialogue between parents and children.
Every child who's bullied needs emotional support and sometimes bully victims are ones you'd least expect.
I want them to know they're not alone.
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