Thinking of the death of Nigel Shelby, the 15 year old Black kid who committed suicide due to being bullied for being Gay, I used to think that kids needed to be tough. I thought that we “babied” young people and that being bullied was a right of passage. I cannot tell you how wrong I was.
In the age of social media, we often don’t understand how bulling has taken a more sinister turn. Instead of whispers in the hallway, cracking jokes, and notes passed around about people, there are Facebook posts, Twitter rants, and Instagram photos shaming people. Bullying and harassment is on a whole ‘nother level.
I sometimes think we as older folk look back fondly on our time of being picked on in school and surviving it. There is nothing dope about that, but we wear it as a badge of honor. We survived harsh treatment; it made us stronger and those that came after need to do the same thing. But what if all that trauma was unnecessary? What if… kids were encouraged to be nice to each other and bypass bullying?
Writing this, I think of myself being picked on because I had a big head, talked different, stuttered, and had a darker complexion. As bad as I had it, I wasn’t coming out as Gay. I cannot imagine what Nigel was dealing with. Kids can be cruel, were cruel, and are cruel. This is what we had to deal with coming of age, but what we should not do is let this generations cries for help fall on deaf ears.
As a Black man today, one of my responsibilities is to make it easier for those that come behind me. I like the line from Wu-Tang Clan’s Cream “Teach the truth to the young Black youth.” Part of that is unlearning the bullshit I digested as fact. No one needs to be bullied to create character. That is something that we need to remove from our thought pattern. Everyone is not strong and does not need that added pressure. Life is hard already.
Nigel was a young Black man dealing with his sexuality. We needed to give him space and love to grow, and that means a life without needless stress and bigotry. Nigel needed peace. I hope he finds that.