GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The recent death of Moss Point seventh grader Lorel Malone has brought a lot of attention to bullying in schools. A Tampa, FL teenager, who has been a victim of bullying, is using his experience to teach tolerance.
On Monday, he shared his story with some Gulfport students. He is on a cross country campaign to banish bullying.
"It's a disability where I make a bunch of weird noises in my throat, and I would jerk my head or move my leg and snap my arms," Jaylen Arnold explained to the small crowd Monday.
The 13-year-old admitted his disability made him an easy target for bullies. He was born with a severe case of Tourette Syndrome, Asperger's and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"I was bullied, mocked. They'd call me names. They'd call me a freak, and they'd copy me and laugh and point fingers," said Jaylen.
He said the verbal attacks actually made his condition worse. It got to a point where he couldn't read, write or even talk. Jaylen was confined to his home for three months.
"Some people don't realize the effects bullying has on other kids. It can make them do horrible, scary, unthinkable things to themselves," said Jaylen. "It stunk for me. It was horrible, my worst life period that I went through."
He shared his pain with the third through sixth grade classes at Westminster Academy in Gulfport. He used a plain sheet of paper to demonstrate how words can wound.
"This is when you call someone ugly. This is when you call someone fat, or stupid," Jaylen said as he crumbled the paper into a ball. "The words of my bully stuck with me, and this is me, and this is some of you guys, and this is a lot of kids that got bullied, and this is what I'm trying to prevent."
The teen founded the Jaylen's Challenge Foundation in 2009 to raise awareness about the dangers of bullying. His story has inspired more than 60,000 students all over the country.
"I was in pain. I felt worthless. The words didn't help, and the stress made the Tourettes even worse, and I didn't want any other kid to go through the pain of bullying that I went through. That's why Jaylen's Challenge is here. Life is too precious for someone to feel worthless because of somebody else's words," he said.
"Very brave, he has so much courage. I wouldn't be able to do half of what he does," said fifth grader Nour Tayara. "I started feeling sad because people bullied him from how he was at birth and it's just not right. It's just mean."
"It was kind of touching, you know, how he had to go through it," said fifth grader Camille Newman. "I just want to be nice to everybody now, to be a happy, smiley person."
Jaylen gave each student a book about bullying and a rubber bracelet to remind them of his motto: Bullying, No Way.
"We hope that with them hearing from another student, their peers, they can know that other people who have gone through this, who've been successful, and they can overcome situations of the same nature," said Westminster Academy Principal Kathy Sellers.
"Bullies even write me and say, 'I used to bully, but I don't anymore. Thank you.' Nothing makes me happier, and that's what gives me pleasure in life, and I look forward to helping other people and saving their lives," said Jaylen.
Jaylen also spoke to students in Mobile, AL Monday morning. His next stops are Dallas, TX, Phoenix, AZ, and Los Angeles, CA.