Stephanie Pearson-Davis is a Black woman, wife, and mother, living and doing business in Chicago’s Southland, Frankfort, IL. She is the founder of It Could be Your Kid, a 501(c)3 organization that advocates and educates on bullying awareness and prevention. Her message is simple: “Stop Bullying Now!” but the environment in which she speaks to it is a bit hostile. Stephanie’s school district, which has a predominantly White student enrollment (2037 White and 174 Black students) met her with resistance and disapproval when she added racial equity to the mix.
When and why did you start It Could Be Your Kid?
It Could Be Your Kid was founded after my daughter was victimized in 3rd grade by bullying behavior at the hands of a few White girls from her school. The teacher did nothing and in my opinion, condoned what was happening. I requested that my daughter be removed from this classroom. My request was denied. I was perplexed because there had been instances when other students had been moved from class to class for no real reason. We hired a civil rights attorney and that is when the school quickly decided, it would be okay to move my daughter to a different classroom. Fast-forward to the 5th grade when our daughter was placed once again in the same classroom with the girls who bullied her two years prior. And now, on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, here we go again. These same girls started their bullying behavior yet again. This time, I decided to go public and immediately started hearing from people all over the world and so many of them from right in my community – from high school graduates to adults in their 60s.
What stuck out to me is that these girls engaged in this behavior as 7- and 8-year-olds and two years later they were still engaging in the same behaviors. I felt not only for my daughter but for all the other children who experienced the displeasure of these girls since my daughter had. I thought, ‘who is helping these children?’ It is not normal for a child to behave in this manner – for one child to bully another. It worried me that these children had not faced any intervention or consequences for this kind of behavior since the 3rd grade. They were still up to the same negative conduct which led to my ‘why’. Our children need support, resources, and programming that help them feel empowered to have agency and autonomy over their bodies and their space and how other people treat them. And that really is the goal of “It Could be Your Kid”.
Do you ever hear from any of the bullies?
There is always a lot of shame associated with those people who engage in bullying behavior. So, honestly no, not in a real sense. As part of our programming, we talk to parents and children about children who engage in bullying behavior. We do not want to demonize them but provide opportunities and pathways for them to engage in more productive and positive behavior. I have moved from really calling children bullies. When we label them, we make it a lot more difficult for them to move away from that behavior and for other people to see them outside of that framework. The goal is to find out what is missing and how we can restore them.
Do you partner with the schools in your district and/or non-profit organizations?
I do a lot of work with Purple Path, an organization founded and run by Dr. Shaniqua Jones aka the “restorative practices guru “here in the south suburbs and all over this country. What she does is such an important part of talking about bullying and racism. The ultimate ending of this journey is about reconciliation and restoration. We must figure out: how do we all get along? Many in my community and elsewhere would love for me to stop talking about this but I just cannot concede. I have gotten a lot of criticism and even rumors spread that I was making all of this up and only in it for the money. The fact remains: WE need this conversation. WE need resolution.
With all the attacks against you, your character, your cause, why do you stay?
This is my purpose and I know I was created for a time such as this. My dad always told me, ‘do not be weary in well doing…’. I am so encouraged by the impact of my work. So much of bullying and racism is a heart matter. It is my goal to provide a safe space along with programming that speaks to the mental and emotional of our children.
You can support Stephanie’s work by donating on her website, www.itcouldbeyourkid.org. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook, @itcouldbeyourkid.
Contributor Kim Durden is a food writer and owner of Divine Dine Food Tours and DivinE320, an online marketplace featuring themed and custom gift boxes. She also has a lifestyle blog called Simply Divine.