Peyton James was an amazing boy. He had lovely red hair, piercing hazel eyes that changed from green to blue, and a quirky sense of humor. He loved animals, road trips, Minecraft, Legos and chocolate ice cream. He was my Angel-Face and now he’s my angel in paradise.
He had been born in 2001, was nine weeks early and weighed only 2.52 pounds. He spent 35 days in the NICU before having the ability to come home. While in the hospital, he spent three weeks to pure oxygen and was fed through a tube. What wasn’t understood then was that the oxygen and liquid nourishment was causing a discoloration at the tooth of the permanent teeth a problem that we would not see for many years.
In 2nd grade, the teasing began.
“Why don’t you brush your teeth?”
Though his teeth were healthy, they had been a mottled yellow colour, sort of like the colour of a popcorn kernel. He was also picked on due to his hair, his glasses and the fact that he was smaller than most of the other boys. He was viewed as weak and became a goal. (All these are the silent signals your child is getting bullied.)
As Peyton got old, he often wondered why people were mean to him. He would ask me, “Mom, why can’t people just be nice?”
I never really knew how to answer that question, therefore I tried to inspire him to be the one. Additionally, I told him all of the things a parent tells a child–which he was unique, that he was clever, that he was loved. However, as children grow older, words of a parent begin to pale in comparison to the words of their peers.
At November of 2013, Peyton had his very first suicidal event. For years, he had been tormented by several boys at his school. Peyton began to say his father and I’d be better off without him that he didn’t want to be here. At first, we thought that he was just overreacting, but whenever the comments did not quit, I knew he was in trouble, so I took him to the local emergency room. Sadly, ER’s do not really deal with mental health issues and we were referred to your therapist. He soon began weekly treatment and seemed to be feeling.
I assisted him see that this is a new beginning and that the bullies from his prior school would be something of the past; he had been anxious but excited. As he began 8th grade at his new school, he fulfilled one boy with whom he had common interests and they became friends. However, the teasing and bullying continued at this college, too. Peyton was an easy target because he didn’t like what other kids enjoyed. He didn’t play sports; he adored Dr. Who, YouTube and anime, and prefer to read a book than play outdoors. He was soon being called a “loser” or a “geek.” He had been devastated.
A month in his new college, Peyton told me about what exactly was going on. He had reported an incident to the principal the day before and also the principal just told him to just avoid another boy. I inquired Peyton why he hadn’t told me this was happening and he said, “Mom, you can’t fix this.”
“Mom, you can’t fix this.”
After we got home, Peyton went into his area, typical of teenage boys. I thought he just wanted some time alone. After about 20 minutes, I went to check on him and that is when I found him. He’d hung himself from the ceiling fan.
The doctors did what they could to stabilize him and to let him cure, but the injury to his brain was just too intense. On October 13, 2014 at 12:02 in the early hours, Peyton was pronounced brain dead. He also saved the lives of six individuals and improved the lives of countless others.
After his death, I was numb. I don’t remember a great deal of the upcoming few weeks, but I do recall a conversation I had with the mother of one of Peyton’s close friends, Phoebe. She explained that Phoebe had been yelling at college and the boy who had tormented Peyton for all those years watched and knew why. He said to her, “I’m not surprised. This was just like a punch in the gut. I simply couldn’t understand why one person would chose to be so unbelievably mean to another person. No good could come from that statement, so why would he even say it?”
It was then I understood that, as educators, we’ve done our kids a disservice. We’ve taught them about bullies and bullying behaviour. We’ve given them detailed ideas of what bullies do and advised them not to be one. What we have not done, though, is teach them how to be nice to one another. We simply assume they understand. We hope that when we let them “be nice” they understand how, but frequently they do not.
I understood I had to do something. That is when Kindness Matters was born.
I began it as a Facebook webpage with the intent of sharing stories of kindness and reminders to be kind to one another, even if it was not easy. We also began a Weekly Kindness Challenge which gave people a kindness task to perform each week. Initially, there were just a couple hundred followers. Soon after, I had been asked to speak at my school’s No Place For Hate rally and I shared Peyton’s narrative.
Afterward, I started talking at other schools, sharing Peyton’s story and using involvement activities to show children the actual power of the words as well as the energy of kindness. So far, we’ve given presentations in 38 schools across Texas and our Facebook family has grown to over 29,000. We’ve also sent Kindness Matters t-shirts and wristbands to all 50 states and 9 nations.
Additionally, since Peyton wanted to be a veterinarian when he grew up, we’ve begun a scholarship in his name at the Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine. We hope to fulfill the25,000 endowment of the scholarship fund so that the Peyton A. James Memorial Scholarship will be a permanent addition to the Texas A&M Foundation.
It is my deepest hope that we may change the culture of the society and leave all the negativity and name-calling behind. Developing a culture of kindness must start with one person, so why not with me? Or you?