By Rita Robinson, Special to the Independent
Al Johnson is no fool.
He knows a bully when he sees one.
That’s because he’s been one.
“I was a fake bully,” said Johnson, a black man who grew up hyper-alert on the streets of Kansas City, Missouri. It was the 1950s and ‘60s, when racial tensions were high and confusing.
“I was an in-between kid, I was on the smallish side and didn’t have a big voice, so I acted tough to impress the gangsters, the bad kids,” he said. “I learned the tricks and the skills and the element of surprise.”
That, he says, is what kids need to learn today to diffuse a confrontation, whether it’s physical or emotional, in person or in cyberspace.
Through his Bullies Be Gone! program, Johnson has taught children, teens and adults how to be aware of their surroundings, preserve their integrity and not cower to a bully. He will present his program at 7 a.m. this Wednesday, Sept. 12, at The Inside EdgeEducational Foundation’s breakfast meeting at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.
Bullies, Johnson said, weren’t born bullies—they’re simply projecting how they feel towards themselves. “For bullying to be permanently eliminated, the bullied must be the catalyst for change,” he said. “They need to know how to effectively eliminate their own bullying problem.”
Johnson’s seven-step program, which he’s been teaching for 33 years, outlines how to become that catalyst while making it fun.
A big step, he said, is to change the postures, facial expressions, actions, words, and even thoughts that say, “I’m a victim.”
“I stopped thinking like a victim, I stopped acting like a victim. I didn’t care if somebody said something derogatory,” Johnson said.
The turn-around for Johnson came the day an elderly black man in his neighborhood called him over. Johnson was 21.
“I was really angry and ready to be highly militant towards white people,” he said, recalling a racial incident that occurred while he was in the Navy.
“Sit down, son,” Johnson said the old man told him. “I can see you’re angry. What are you angry about?”
Johnson replied: “I don’t like white people.”
Get rid of the anger, Johnson was told. “He said, ‘The anger won’t allow you to become the person you need to be and can be. The anger will restrict you from being who you really are. Get an education; learn as much as you can as opposed to being angry.’
“It changed my way of thinking. It’s 50 years later, and we’re having this racial distress and racial divide going on again,” Johnson said.
Since the shocking number of active-shooter events in recent years, millennials today are changing their way of thinking, too, said Johnson, with mass marches protesting gun violence. Taking responsibility is key.
“Responsibility on all levels is not being practiced or understood as it needs to be,” he said. Taking responsibility for actions and reactions that sway someone to become a bully or get bullied underlie the process for change, he said.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012, where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed, there have been at least 239 school shootings, according to gunviolencearchive.org, the last resulting in 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District engaged school resource officers after the Columbine High School assault in 1999. The district added a third SRO in Newport this year, bringing the total to five. Laguna Beach Unified, a smaller district, added their first school resourceofficer, Cpl. Cornelius Ashton, this school year.
Jose Torres, the SRO at Costa Mesa High School in the Newport-Mesa district, said his uniformed presence alone reminds students there are consequences to poor choices, such as jail or job disqualification, that will affect the happiness of their future.
He also mentors would-be troublemakers, suggesting they put all that energy toward something constructive rather than destructive and looking at their home life.
Johnson’s program also includes a section on active-shooter training and what to do if confronted by someone with a weapon.
“That’s why we have to get to kids very early, like the kids who committed the crimes at Columbine (April 20, 1999) and in Parkland, Florida (Feb. 14, 2018), we have to get to them early when they’re being confused or when they’re being influenced negatively. We have to get to them as early as we possibly can.”
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