October is both Domestic Violence and Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, two subjects that truly need to be taken more seriously..

I recently took part in an anti-bullying rally in the cafeteria of the Elizabeth Carter Brooks Elementary School in New Bedford. One by one, students in kindergarten through fifth grade trickled in during their scheduled lunch times, grabbed their meals, and took to their tables to eat, completely unaware of who I was or what I was doing there at the school. I'll get to that part soon enough.

We should be celebrating our uniqueness and originality rather than knocking each other down with derogative insults and hurtful comments. We need to be reminded that life isn't exactly a walk in the park. While some people are coasting by, others are suffering in silence. You never know what someone has gone through until it has happened to you and I can admit that I've taken a walk in those shoes.

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It's been a long time coming, but I feel as though I'm ready to finally bring something to light I've always kept quiet about. That something is bullying and I was a victim of it for most of my childhood. Now, you'd think that at six-foot-four and 275 pounds, that there's no way I could have been bullied, but the truth is I wasn't always a big guy.

Growing up, I had parents who did one hell of a job raising me and was fortunate to have a roof over my head and a hot meal every day and night. I had a great support system and an even better group of friends who to this day are still there for one another. It was a really good life, but the bullying was getting out of control. From as far back as I can remember, there was always an older kid shoving me against the locker or waiting for me at my bus stop, ready to attack at any given moment.

It scared the living hell out of me, but I grew stronger.

Between the black eyes and the aluminum bats to the back of my head, it took a toll, both physically and mentally. Since I could talk I had speech problems. My hearing wasn't the greatest, either. I was always in and out of speech pathologists and audiologists, and I just assumed that everybody had to go to them, just like your casual checkup at a doctor. I found out the hard way when my lisp was fuel for taunting.

That's when I began fighting hurtful words with comedy. I was the class clown and it was the biggest facade I've ever had to put up, and for what, all so I could feel included or accepted? I never brought it up to my teachers and went on living a lie for years to come. Being tall and thin, I stood out like a sore thumb. My body was growing faster than my muscle could develop, leaving a scrawny impression of a kid who was made fun of if I ever went to school in a muscle shirt or cut-off tee.

Sure, I'm better off these days, but that doesn't mean I forgot about those who caused me harm. That's why I finally got around to telling my story to the students at Brooks Elementary.

All I'm saying is that if you read this and related any way at all, you're not alone and life is going to be just fine. Remember, it's okay to not be okay, and ignore the judgmental barriers that have kept us from kindness and selflessness.

Parents, be aware of the mental health of your children and find out what's bothering them when they're feeling down.

If you've ever been bullied before, I promise you that you're not alone. I've found success with a job that requires both hearing and talking, the two things I was made fun of for during my childhood. There's hope, my friends, I promise you that. Stay humble, stay kind, and in the words of the Brooks School, vow to "be a buddy, not a bully."

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