Jamel Hudson experienced bullying from all perspectives while growing up as a child in Brentwood — as a victim, a bystander and as a bully himself.
In middle school, Hudson admits he may have “horsed around” a little too much, tripping and pushing his peers while they played in gym class. But he also has memories of getting teased for being short, and of being alienated by friends and wrestling teammates when he decided to take ballet classes.
In his freshman year at Hofstra University, Hudson said he reflected on those years and came to appreciate the negative effects that cycle of aggression had on him and his peers. He decided to change and promote change in others.
“I realized that I wasn’t going to subject myself to that lifestyle anymore,” said Hudson, now 19 and a junior majoring in rhetorical studies, theater and religion. “I was going to remove myself, and teach others to find their own power and confidence within themselves.”
Hudson, an aspiring stage performer and a 142-lb. captain of the Hofstra wrestling team (and who also was the 2012 high school state champion in the 132-lb. division for St. Anthony's High School), now travels to schools throughout Long Island teaching tolerance through his Taking Down Bullying program. The program incorporates music and song into an interactive lecture series that teaches children about the dangers and consequences of bullying.
“I’m not a teacher, I’m not an educator, but I am a performer,” Hudson said. “I had to use my gifts as a musician, an actor, a singer, to bring my dream to life and put it into action.”
The program launched in 2013 and slowly gained momentum as Hudson built a repertoire through Long Island’s BOCES programs.
Now Hudson will be bringing his anti-bullying message to every school in the Brentwood Union Free School District, the largest on Long Island with an enrollment of 18,000 students. Hudson kicked off the series on Sept. 30, speaking to fourth-graders at Loretta Park Elementary School. The lecture preceded the start of National Bullying Prevention Awareness month in October.
Just a week earlier, Hudson spoke to 1,030 students at East Middle School in Brentwood. Hudson had performed there last year and plans to return next spring. East Middle School Principal John Callan said Hudson’s performances have been a hit among students.
“The songs and music really help rope the kids in, and keep them focused,” Callan said. “He’s very well-received by the students. When kids come up to you and ask when someone or something is going to come back, you know it was powerful.”
In 2010, cyberbullying was suspected to have played a role in the suicide of 17-year-old West Islip girl Alexis Pilkington, sparking new awareness throughout the community. Pilkington was harassed via hateful messages online, which continued on memorial websites set up in her name even after her death.
In his lectures, Hudson teaches children how to identify different types of bullying, the characteristics of bullies and victims, why people are bullies and what can be gained from stopping school violence in its tracks. He always ends his lecture with music or dance, which he says lifts the spirits of the audience.
“I want these kids to leave feeling empowered, like they can do something great,” Hudson said.
Hudson said that he changes his program to cater to the needs of different age groups, tackling issues that are relevant to their in-school experience and honing in on the realities of their everyday lives.
“With younger kids, I keep it simple and try to make them aware of the issue early on,” he said. “But with older kids, in middle school and high school, I can be more serious and talk about the long-term consequences of their actions into adulthood.”
Hudson hopes that his program will create a lasting impact on students, which will stay with them throughout their lives.
“Bullying in childhood can linger with someone into their adult years and can lead to depression or even suicide,” Hudson said. “I come with a powerful message, and believe that through education, we can stop the cycle even before it begins.”