Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 29, 2012

Eastern students learn to stomp out bullying

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

Greentown — Mr. Mojo said Jessica was excited to transfer to her new Indiana school until her classmates started making fun of her short hair.

They asked her what kind of girl would cut her hair that short. They questioned whether she was even a girl at all.

Jessica went to her guidance counselor two weeks later crying and yelling. She asked to be transferred immediately.

What those kids said hurt her deeply, Mr. Mojo told a group of Eastern Middle School students during an anti-bullying presentation Wednesday.

“We don’t know what kids are going home to,” he said.

As it turns out, Jessica’s family had been driving her three hours to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis for cancer treatment.

The chemotherapy made her hair fall out, and it was finally starting to grow back. That’s why it was so short.

“The thing is, she was cool with it,” Mr. Mojo said. “It didn’t even phase her until they started making fun of her, taking shots at her.”

The Eastern students listened quietly to Mr. Mojo’s message.

Mr. Mojo’s real name is Travis Brown.

He told students he grew up in a trailer park in Lafayette. His parents divorced when he was young, and his dad was never around.

He remembers sitting on the curb waiting for his dad to pick him up for visits. Most times, he didn’t show up.

Those circumstances made him feel like he wasn’t good enough.

Everyone has things in their life that make them self-conscious, he said.

“Maybe it’s about your house, who’s there or who isn’t there,” he said. “Maybe it’s about who’s never been there. Maybe it’s how smart you are or how dumb they try to say you are. Maybe it’s about the clothes you wear or the only shoes you have.”

Bullies will try to prey on those things. They’re doing it in schools across the country.

So Brown transformed himself into Mr. Mojo to go on his nationwide Operation Mojo: No Bullying Tour.

His tour stopped in Greentown Wednesday to talk to students in Eastern Howard School Corp.

He called on every one of them to “Mojo Up” and change a person’s life.

“You can be a big baller, shot caller,” he said.

But you have to make a change.

His own mother told him the story of how she was picked on about her weight when she was little. She got on the bus one day, and the kids in the back were ringing cow bells.

Everyone was laughing and staring at her.

Her older sister, who sat with her every day on the bus, did nothing.

“How could she do that?” Mr. Mojo asked. “It’s a nasty little four-letter word called ‘fear.’”

All kids let fear get the best of them at some point.

You see teasing at a lunch table and do nothing, he said. You see it in the hallway and do nothing.

One boy Mr. Mojo met almost hung himself because he was bullied and bystanders did nothing.

After one of the anti-bullying presentations, the boy came up to Mr. Mojo and started bawling.

“He said he was planning to kill himself,” Mr. Mojo said. “He had the rope, and he picked out his spot.”

Then, he heard Mr. Mojo speak. That inspired classmates to come up to him afterward and say they believed in him. He couldn’t kill himself after that, he said.

“All he needed was someone to step up and say, ‘you matter,’” Mr. Mojo said.

Every year 4,500 teens commit suicide.

The students at Eastern Elementary School, Eastern Junior High School and Eastern High School can help put an end to that, he said.

Mr. Mojo said he wanted the students to leave the high school auditorium Wednesday a changed person.

He told them to stand up and pledge that they won’t bully kids or be a bystander anymore.

He video taped the students as they repeated his words of wisdom.

“I am a leader,” he told them to say. “I lead me first. Point to your neighbor and say, ‘I lead you next.’ Because I believe in me. Point to your neighbor and say, ‘I believe in you.’”

Students shouted those words back to him, and he continued with his call for change.

“I’m all in,” he and the students yelled out. “So right now, I turn my mojo on. I turn my swag up. I brush off all my haters. I’m a mojo maker. I will protect this house.”

Students cheered as the motivational speaker ended his presentation.

Afterward, students lined up to get Mr. Mojo’s autograph and take their pictures with him.

Eastern guidance counselor Tricia Harrison said she was thrilled that students responded so well to him and thought of him as a celebrity.

She said she thinks students realize that he understands the issues and struggles they’re facing, so they can relate to him.

Harrison said she hopes the anti-bullying message got through to them. It’s something that has everyone’s attention right now.

Mr. Mojo called it a social epidemic.

It’s an epidemic Eastern is trying to end at its schools.

Harrison will continue playing anti-bullying videos Mr. Mojo gave to her. She said they will serve as a reminder that kids need to step up.

She also has “Mojo Maker” certificates that she can hand out when she sees a student doing something good.

Eastern is also trying to gauge how big the problem is at its schools.

Students took a survey that Mr. Mojo provided. It contained 30 questions about the issue.

It asked kids if they think schools take bullying seriously and if they’ve ever felt unsafe at school because of bullying.

Students were asked to reveal how often they’re physically or mentally bullied and how often they’re bullied online, among other questions.

Harrison said they were still tabulating the results of the survey.

It was clear almost immediately that some students were ready to make a change, though.

Kids quickly started posting messages on Mr. Mojo’s Facebook page following the presentation.

Eastern Junior High School Student Casey Robert said, “I’m pretty sure that I heard the best speaker ever. He has inspired me to help kids who are bullied. MOJO UP.”