In May there will be an annual race in Denver called the Colfax Marathon, and it’s an awesome opportunity to lift up organizations that strengthen our communities. The local non-profit I’ll run a 5k for is called Mirror Image Arts. They use theater to talk with students about bullying. I’m all about affecting tangible change in young people’s lives, so I was drawn to this organization when my friend suggested it to me. I’ll share a story about how I had been bullied way back when, a time when I was a bully, and what theater taught me.
When I was growing up in a rural village in Cameroon, my family stood out because we weren’t white like the American missionaries, and we weren’t black like our Cameroonian neighbors. We were brown Malagasy folks. The Americans had higher incomes than us, and we had higher incomes than our Cameroonian friends. I learned that quickly as a kid. I also learned that because I had different-colored skin than the rest of the kids in Sunday school class, and had different physical features, and that my family could afford coloring pencils, I was different from my classmates. They made fun of me for what I looked like. They scoffed at my brightly-colored pages, even when I offered to share my coloring pencils. I detested Sunday school, and I hated church.
In that same village, when we were about to move away (I was 12 or 13 years old), we had a garage sale. Because I had acquired French pop and culture magazines from when we’d travel to Cameroon’s capital, I had posters of pop stars. I had a rivalry with a chubby Cameroonian neighbor and I didn’t like her because she was mean to my best friend at the time. I had my conniving ways (I was a sneaky kid, I think Mom got called once because I tried to trick a boy into kissing me…poor kid was completely clueless and his mother gave me the shadiest side eye lol…poor Mom). Prior to the garage sale, I sidled up to Chubby Rival and promised her all my cool posters. She beamed at me and agreed. Then I let my best friend know that I actually would give HER my posters and that Chubby Rival would get her hopes up for nothing. Yes, I was a maniacal little monster (again, poor Mom had to deal with me). I did exactly as I planned with giving my posters to my best friend and our family moved away. When we came back to visit a year or two later, I sought out Chubby Rival and apologized to her for my actions. She forgave me. I told my therapist the other day that I was surprised that as a kid I sought out reconciliation with people I hurt. She said that it meant that I acted on principle (I also know I’m her favorite client).
Moving on to high school, I didn’t really experience bullying…if you don’t count my former roommate giving me the cold shoulder when I stood up to her saying something mean about another person. I acted in two plays. One of my roles required me to kiss a boy who happened to be from Ireland. If you know anything about my current self, you’ll know that I have a tendency to be drawn to Irish men. I. Don’t. Know. Why. However, being in high school, I refused to kiss said Irishman (I was a stupid girl in that respect) because I was a goddam prick…something about “saving my first kiss for marriage” lol Mind you, I had already kissed someone but maybe I was just terrified that I’d fall in love with this boy who played my romantic counterpart. #kisstheIrish
I’m sorry, did we get distracted? Being in plays was fun. I liked the attention. I have a slight flair for drama *sarcasm*. Nevertheless, I learned how to be a part of a team, how to work hard on memorizing my lines, and how to perform on stage. It gave me a sense of camaraderie and purpose, especially when I did a good job.
Theater wasn’t the be all end all for me, but it helped boost my fledgling self-confidence as a teen. I think what Mirror Image Arts is doing will put kids on the path of empathy- because watching or participating in acting is all about seeing something from another person’s point of view. Maybe once you get to know your neighbor, and what led to their hurts, you can become more compassionate toward them. Maybe even apologize for when you pushed them out. What I loved first about Mirror Image Arts was that they go into public schools and engage students of all ethnic backgrounds, creeds, and income levels. All kids need eye-opening experiences on the subject of bullying, but kids who come from unstable or struggling homes have even more reason to learn how to stand up for themselves because they are used to facing chaos. I’m glad that I get to be a part of sharing this organization’s mission in impacting children for the better 🙂