Jeremiah Anthony sat in the crowded high school assembly watching the hired speaker talk about bullying. She had been sharing barely believable (and a few unbelievable) stories of her own bullying experiences. Her message thus far had been, “bullying is bad”. This was not news to Jeremiah or any of his two thousand school-mates. Then she said, “Do you want to know how to stop bullying?” Jeremiah edged forward, eager to hear the answer.
“Don’t be a bully.”
And that was it. Her solution to the bullying problem was to tell 95% of the audience to do something they were already doing.
While most of the other students spent the rest of the day laughing and joking about the ludicrous stories they’d heard, Jeremiah wondered how bullying could be reduced. He recalled a conversation with his first grade guidance counselor who had explained that bullies act the way they do because of low self-esteem. It seemed obvious then that the solution was to improve everyone’s self-esteem. Jeremiah started a Twitter account in order to compliment everyone in his school. @westhighbros was born.
That was fifteen months ago and things have changed. There are now ten people running the account because Jeremiah realized he couldn’t find positive things about everyone in the school by himself. He’s been featured in blog posts, the local newspaper, and earlier this month, Jeremiah was interviewed on NBC’s Today Show, spurring hundreds of teens around the country to start their own positive Twitter accounts.
I spoke to Jeremiah last week and three key points came hit me during the conversation.
This is Risky
There is always a risk of pushback when doing positive things in a school environment. And so it was with @westhighbros. Jeremiah told me a few people started attacks on him personally. That’s what happens to heroes. However, Jeremiah was not fazed. He told me that he knew a good word goes further than a bad. He did the right thing despite the risk.
This is Student-Led
I asked Jeremiah how the staff and administration at the school felt about his efforts and how much they worked with him on the project. He said they didn’t even know about it until the Today Show came to town. This blew me away. Jeremiah and the team have become a trusted set of mentors to students at the school. They are regularly asked for advice. They have improved the school culture (down to virtually zero cyberbullying) and did it without getting staff involved. That allows staff to focus on their jobs.
This is a Team
All heroes have teams. Jeremiah has a team. He interviews students from time to time to take jobs in this self-esteem factory. With the team, he is able to create more change than he’d ever be able to do by himself. Gandhi is often quoted suggesting that you be the change you want to see in the world. That’s not enough. You have to go beyond yourself. Spread your message by building a team.