Bullying: I’m sure most of us have heard about it and maybe even experienced some form of it. Quite a few young adults are also tired of hearing this term, this word that has been decried and spoken about “repetitively” and for so long already. Well I, Billy Kacyem, am here to tell you that this issue cannot be undermined and can never be overstressed. With suicide being the third leading cause of death amongst teenagers—about 4,000+ deaths a year, according to the Center for Disease Control—and with nearly half of those suicide-engendered deaths being driven by some form of bullying, this issue is actually a grave and deadly problem plaguing this generation.
After having experienced bullying inserting a dagger through most of my freshman year and even at one point mulling over suicide as a ‘way out’, I can truly attest to the severity of this issue. During late August of 2010, I said adieu to the world I call home—Cameroon—and headed 5,800 miles to an alien universe—Kings Park, Long Island, New York. I moved to Kings Park and was a tenderfoot in a new shoe of civilization. Every presence was the polar opposite of what I’d been accustomed to in Cameroon. For one thing, Kings Park is purely English-speaking and a very minute town- on a map of Long Island, you would be hard pressed to discern Kings Park. Furthermore, the diversity I was acclimated to in Cameroon is almost nonexistent in Kings Park. Almost every inhabitant is of Irish, Italian, and/or German descent. The high school is a microcosmic reflection of the town itself. Although populous (in each grade, there are about 300 students, making the total population of the high school around 1,200), the majority of students are from north shore Long Island; only a minuscule handful of students were born outside of New York. A large number of people have never been outside of the East Coast (or even outside of New York), and the mainstream knows very little about the rest of the world (which often resulted in me being bombarded with—often wild—inquiries on Africa).
I tried my best to adapt to this drastic transition and felt like I was making some progress in the first few weeks. However, I quickly became known as “that black kid from Africa.” A multitude of fellow high-schoolers started to approach me each day with questions such as “What’s Africa like?” or “How hot is it over there?” or even “Do you guys have cars in Africa?” At first, it seemed as if those questions were just due to their genuine curiosity about a “world” they knew little to nothing about. Then, derision started to seep in, and I started to gradually feel discomfort. Jokes ranged from guys “clicking” their tongues at me and then asking me if I understood what they had just “said” to people replicating “monkey sounds” and saying that I smelled like one whilst walking past me. In the beginning, I would passively laugh along with them, for I thought they were truly just “jokes”; but, then I noticed that they were actually attempting to ridicule me in front of our peers. I thought it was something I had done that drove them to act like this towards me. Innocent as I was back then, I believed I could make it up by maybe changing some aspect of my character. I quickly came to realize that this perspective was wrong.
One day in around mid-October, I went to the bathroom; about two minutes later, I found myself surrounded by a group of guys ranging from freshmen to seniors. One guy said, “Is this that nigger?” Honestly, I was shocked, for in my head that term was associated with slavery and pre-1980’s America. I then got very, very petrified. They all started laughing and calling me things like “monkey”, “dumbass”, and “black piece of shit.” I remember what I felt. I was boxed in, both physically and mentally. I was in a zone in which safety and well-being were nonexistent. I couldn’t cry for help, I couldn’t successfully escape—I was trapped. Crying, I wondered why this had to be happening right now. Was I cursed because of karma? I didn’t know. My sobbing only brought forth more laughter and derogatory jokes from my tormentors. One of them pinned me to the wall and said, “Don’t think you Africans can just come to our town and take over. Got that?” I nodded. They then proceeded out of the bathroom, leaving me in fright, shame, melancholy, and tears. They had instilled so much fear inside of me that I was too scared to even mention the encounter to my parents or teachers.
From that day on, high school seemed like a huge, uncomfortable, and terrifying place. From the intimidating looks I would receive in the hallways from that group of boys to more derisive and even more demeaning jokes and gestures from other students, I saw no reason for this “hell.” It was like I had been unprecedentedly plunged into an immense heart of darkness and there was no way to alter the malicious cycle. At one point, I contemplated suicide. What was the point of living through this? And what would be the use of rebelling—would I even succeed with so many clearly against me? I sought a way out, and death seemed to be a quick and easy one. Fortunately, before I could put my plan into action, I met my savior: music. I discovered the music of an artist by the name of Kendrick Lamar and listened to him on a daily basis. Here was a man who had gone through far worse problems and crises in his life—from watching family members get killed to being partly homeless—but still made it out “like a champion,” using his obstacles as motivation towards a successful career in music. After listening to him and his poetic artistry, I knew that I wasn’t alone and that I could actually make it through. I started to write down thoughts in a small journal I purchased at Barnes & Nobles, which helped me deal with everything I was going through. These thoughts grew into lyrics and even full songs. As ninth grade came to a close, I knew that I was lucky to have found something to prevent what could have potentially been suicide, and I started realizing that I could go through these tough times by just “keeping my head up high” and never letting people “bring me down” with words. My experience with music created the foundation for my mental and emotional fortitude.
Bullying is not just some problem that we can solve by ignoring its existence. It is an alarming, a terrifying, an awful disease that has infected this generation and needs to be treated with great care and attention through open-mindedness, rationality, and sympathy. Do not ever try to undermine it, for it is a far more serious issue than you might think. If I hadn’t found a safe haven to help me deal with it, I don’t know what would have become of me—I don’t even know if I’d be here today to share this story.
“Bullying and Suicide.” Bullying Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2014. <http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html>.