Morris Chestnut and Omari Hardwick provided gripping firsthand testimonies that stardom doesn’t automatically provide protection against the evils of modern bullying.
Bullying has reached over the Hollywood walls of privilege to touch the Chestnut household in an all-too personal way.
Chestnut, best known for his gritty performance in urban classics Boyz N the Hood, Brothers and The Best Man, spoke about his son dealing with bullying at the “Art of Liberation” anti-bullying event in Washington, D.C.
“This is a very important event to me. This [bullying] thing is out of control. Right now my son is in the eighth grade and is dealing with a bully. … A lot of kids are going through bullying at this stage in their lives,” he said while providing star power to the gala inspired by National Voice for Equality, Education and Enlightenment, a national anti-bullying organization founded by Jowharah Sanders.
When Chestnut was asked if he had to choke back his fatherly instincts to torpedo to the school to quell the situation, he quipped, “My wife is already on that right now. She went up there looking for the boy,” he added with a sardonic laughter. “This has to be addressed. Some students are taking drastic measures as a result of being bullied.”
The memory of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School near Denver, provided a chilling backdrop to the evening at the upscale W hotel, particularly when “Art of Liberation” host Kevin Hooks mentioned that upwards of 100,000 kids take weapons to school in order to protect themselves. The ingredients for another horrific episode are ever-present.
Hardwick, recently starring in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, has been very involved in anti-bullying efforts for years and working with NFL star Jason Taylor’s foundation.
“I thought it was important for me to be a big brother to the [younger] generation and use the platform that God has given me. I think I would be remiss if I didn’t use that platform to talk to these kids who think it’s cool to be beating up on other kids,” Hardwick says. “I grew up in Decatur, Ga. So I’m straight from the ‘hood. So I dealt with this.”
Hardwick’s ability to relate is why he and Chesnut and other dignitaries appeared at the NVEEE event. Not only did Hardwick put together a good knuckle game to repel bullies coming up in his ATL hometown, but he also sometimes had to go a few rounds when he would try to prevent bullies from beating down weak victims. So he knows what the kids go through, even though he says bullying has gotten more violent and more sinister in recent years.
“I go into juvie [juvenile] detention centers and talk to them about what I went through. …. I was talked about because I was light-skinned and had curly hair,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily bullied or punked down but I was called Cosby kid and talked about, when we didn’t have no money, but I was talked about because I had a mom and a dad at the house and at the dinner table when I went home. So we all went through something. So I tell the kids that you have to make yourself [mentally] stronger than the person [who is doing the] bullying.”