A physical attack on her son pushed Cherce Norris into action.
She started a Facebook group and is calling on parents and the community to share their stories and get involved with stopping bullying in Del Norte schools.
"If You Really Knew Me ... You Would Know" is a forum to talk about bullying and help people whose children are being bullied.
More than 1,200 people have joined the group. Some rallied a few months ago at U.S. Highway 101 and 5th Street. Norris wants to hold a community event later this summer to help kids realize that bullying is wrong.
She is one of three local mothers who offered to share the stories of their children's experiences being bullied.
Two pulled their children out of Del Norte Unified School District schools and now home-school them because the bullying got to be too much for their children. All of them want to see changes in local schools to make them safer.
Changes are coming, according to the school district. A meeting is being planned for August to discuss bullying in Del Norte schools and what can be done about it.
At school, on the field
Thirteen-year-old Eric Norris has been bullied at school and on a youth football field, said his mother.
"He wasn't treated like he should be," Cherce Norris said.
Eric has a learning disability, she said, and was placed on an Individual Education Plan by the school district. He was called "retarded" and "slow" by his peers, Norris said.
It was recommend Eric be put on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the medication had significant side-effects, Norris said.
"His behavior issues were not because of him having ADHD," Norris said. "His anger issues and having to go to counseling were due to the way he was being treated by everybody."
At school and at youth football, other kids were insulting Eric using profanity, she said.
On the football field, "he tried to congratulate (teammates) for a play and give them a high five after one of the games. He patted the guy on the back and told him, 'Good job,' and he said, 'Get your hands off of me ...'"
In one incident, his teammates physically attacked him, Norris said.
They were upset Eric was hitting after the whistle was blown and wanted to get back at him, she said.
"The whole entire team tackled my son and he was kicked several times," Norris said. "He was not physically hurt, but cried his eyes out."
Norris said she tried talking to the parents of the boys who called Eric offensive names, but nothing was done about it. In any case, the bullying moves from "one child to the next," she said.
She told the coach about the attack and he said he told his players they would have to run the entire practice if they continued that kind of behavior, Norris said.
"I was never told, 'This is how we're going to solve it,'" she said.
At school, Norris witnessed a girl make sexual gestures toward her son. Another girl said "she hated him" and told him to "get out of my face" because of something another student had told her about Eric that happened years ago, Norris said.
She pulled Eric out of school to get him away from the bullying and is home-schooling him through Castle Rock Charter School.
To Norris, all of these isolated incidents added up to a realization that bullying was widespread. At first, she hadn't believed her son was actually being bullied.
"We thought 'God, a complete stranger,'" Norris said. "All of these years I've told my son, 'Why is it you? Why is it you who can't go anywhere and everyone always picks you out of a crowd.' Really not believing him. And then to see it with my own eyes. Then I felt like a horrible mom because I was looking back at all of these years that he was trying to tell me and I was part of the bullying - because I wasn't believing him."
Once she realized the problem with her son and other kids, she knew she could do something about it.
"I can give him a voice and all of these little kids who don't have one," she said.
When Eric was physically attacked, that was the last straw.
"I had to hold my child for a couple of hours," she said. "Literally, my chest, my hearteverything hurt on me for him."
The medications Eric was on made him have suicidal thoughts, Norris said.
"I said that night, I wouldn't wait for my child to be found dead before I do something," she said. "All of a sudden it popped into my head I'm going to start a (Facebook) page and I'm going to be heard and I'm not going to stop until I do."
Norris wanted the page to be a place for everyone to come together, have a voice, and raise awareness about bullying "as a community."
The name is based off of the MTV reality series "If You Really Knew Me" that focused on youth and high school cliques. The TV show went to different high schools where students took part in a "Challenge Day" by participate in workshops and activities to learn more about each other.
When people talk and share stories, "you realize you're not the only one," Norris said.
Body bruised, feelings hurt
Ten-year-old Kaylynn Joy started the fifth grade last school year. She was at an age that can bring the onset of puberty when children's - especially girls' - bodies start to change. Kaylynn's body was changing, said her mother, Jennifer Martin, and she was being bullied for the way she looked.
"For at least two weeks, I couldn't figure out what was going on with her," Martin said. "She was lashing out at me, her sister. She refused breakfast and dinner at home. I would find her sitting in the floor of the shower crying and she would not talk to me."
"She would literally scream at us, "There's nothing wrong. Don't talk to me. Leave me alone," and slam doors in my face and finally I was like, I can't handle this, so I had my mom talked to her."
Martin's mother sat Kaylynn down to find out what was wrong. It turned out kids at school were calling her "bitch" and "fat."
Even her supposed friends called her names, Martin said.
At recess, several boys held Kaylynn by the shoulders while another came up from behind and hit her in the small of the back. Her mother found bruises along Kaylynn's back.
"She's 10," Martin said, emotional at the thought of a child's bruises and hurt feelings. "She doesn't need that."
The bullying made Kaylynn think that something was wrong with her, that she needed to lose weight, that she was an outcast, her mother said.
Martin spoke with the principal and was told the problem would be taken care of - but the bullying hasn't stopped.
"It hasn't been physical since," Martin said. "But they are still throwing namesat her."
Kaylynn has learned to handle her feelings by writing in a journal and then tearing up the pages to let go of the emotions, her mother said. Kaylynn is also learning to play the guitar and writing songs. In school, she plays the trombone. Kaylynn is feeling better, her mother said.
"She has found it therapeutic," Martin said about the writing exercise. "She's so frustrated,that's how she gets it out."
'Terrified to go to school'
Thirteen-year-old Tyree Coles has given up on all of the activities he loves to do, said his mother, Tina Gaston. The bullying got to him, she said, and he decided to stop participating to avoid other kids.
"He's my special child," Gaston said. "He's the nicest, the sweetest, little kid, but he's just different."
Tyree has been diagnosed as autistic. He had speech problems as a young child. He was born with a hip displacement and had knee problems so he walked differently, his mother said.
In elementary school, teachers told Gaston that Tyree wasn't mature enough for his grade level and should be in a lower grade. He was placed on an IEP.
"For years and years, I had been told, he's just not mentally that age and I should hold him back," she said. "No, that's not the problem."
Tyree had difficulties, but he wasn't immature, she said.
Kids have bullied Tyree for as long as he's been in school, Gaston said.
"With my son, as the years progress, it gets worse," she said. "The kids get worse."
Tyree was involved in sports, Cub Scouts, church youth groups. He excelled at the trumpet in band.
"He used to do all kinds of things," Gaston said. "Now he does nothing because most of the activities he did, it was the same group of kids."
Tyree has been bullied for different things throughout the years: how he walked, stuttering, his race, glasses, "one thing after another," his mother said.
The bullying got to be so bad Gaston didn't want her son in school anymore. Tyree didn't have any friends and was afraid to go to school because he knew he would be harassed, she said.Tyree was put on medication to help with his depression and went into therapy.
"Everybody disagreed with taking him out of school, (saying) it wouldn't benefit him, he would lose the chance to associate with peers of his own age," she said. "He's terrified to go to school. What's he getting here if he's not associating with anyone?"
She felt not enough was being done to keep her son safe at school.
"Something needs to happen," Gaston said. "It got to the point where I've had enough."
The last straw was Tyree being physically attacked.
Gaston had talked to the principal, saying that there was a problem, but the bullying hadn't let up.
"One morning, he woke up just crying, (saying) 'I don't want to go to school anymore,'" she said.
Gaston talked to the principal again and was told the problem would be addressed, but that same day the bullying got physical.
She got a call saying Tyree had been assaulted and the incident was caught on the school's security camera. Gaston said she wanted to press charges against the student who hit him. She never saw the video and doesn't know exactly what happened. A police officer contacted her and gave her an update, but she hasn't heard anything since, for more than a year.
"The next morning, I pulled both sons out."
Gaston has been home-schooling them ever since through Castle Rock. She said Tyree's depression has lifted and he's no longer on medication.
Healing a bullied child
When children around the country are killing themselves because of being bullied, something needs to be done, Martin said.
She showed her daughter an article about a girl who killed herself because she was bullied.
"This is what happens," she told Kaylynn. "I don't want this to happen to you. This is why you need to talk to me. She cried and let me hold her.
The common thread between these three children is not just that they've been bullied, but that at times they think it's their fault, that something is wrong with them for other kids to bully them.
Bullying has always been around, the mothers said, but it seems to be starting younger and the kids are getting bolder. They're using racial and homosexual slurs and even making up their own slurs, they said.
If bullies can't stop their behavior they don't need to be in school, Gaston said, adding schools should be a safe place for children to learn.
These mothers decided it was time to say something for their children and others being bullied.
"It's our responsibility if our child's voice isnot being listened to," Gaston said.
Martin agreed, "my 10-year-old is not speaking up for herself -that's my job."
Last fall, a group of about 20 adults and children rallied against bullying. Kaylynn was inspired to become active alongside her mother. She's adamant about telling people it's not okay to bullying others, Martin said.
At school, Gaston said there needs to be an across-the-board bullying policy that's sent home to parents and students have to sign. The policy then needs to be enforced, she said.
These mothers also know the sting because they themselves have been bullied at times, they said.
"It's the one thing everyone has dealt with personally," Norris said. "I think we're on the road to something."
Reach Kelley Atherton at firstname.lastname@example.org .