By Daniel Clarke, 17, Hamilton HS
Print This Post

One time in my middle school class, we were working on an art project when one boy told me that I was doing it the wrong way. Automatically, I got angry and slapped his hand off of my paper. He tried to help me again.

So I socked him in the arm.

He cried and told the teacher. She sent me outside to cool off. "Forget this," I said to myself. So I walked away. But a school guard caught me and brought me to the principal’s office, where I sat for a long while and thought about things. The principal threatened to call my mother. But I promised not to lose my cool again, so they let me go back to class.

See, I used to be the type of kid who got into trouble just to get my teachers angry and make their jobs difficult. My short temper and desire to always get my own way labeled me the class bully. Sometimes, I took my anger out on other students. I even got suspended a few times for fighting. But I didn’t care. "Things are going to be the way I want them to be," I thought. I had no intention of changing my ways.

In fact, I liked the reputation of being a bully, because nobody messed with me. I was the person people feared. I was already bigger than everybody else, so I automatically had an advantage. I never lost a fight. Trouble was my middle name.

One time I was playing basketball with some friends at school. My friend Andrew was trying to make a shot, while I was screening for him. But I kept moving, when I should have stayed still. This messed up Andrew’s shot. He yelled at me and said I was screening the wrong way. I screamed back at him and said, "I’ll do it the way I want to."

Then I pushed him and he fell on the ground. He jumped up, shoved me, but then stopped. I stood a good four to five inches taller than him and had a much more solid frame. The other players gathered around, ready to watch a fight. Adrenaline raced through my blood. My hands shook in an anxious way. I was ready to wale on him. I guess he realized that he didn’t stand a chance. So he backed off.

We went back to playing basketball. But Andrew stayed away from me for the rest of the game.

Fight! Fight!

See, there’s nothing like being in a fight and having a crowd gather around. They yell and cheer. They want to see who hits whom next. I loved it. Nothing was better than having people crowd around me to watch. Those were my moments in the spotlight.

But my mom saw things differently. Even though she didn’t really talk to me about my troubles, she was aware that something needed to change. She wanted a positive male role model in my life. Someone I could identify with and look up to. Normally, that’s the job of a dad. But my dad wasn’t part of our family life. My mother raised me and my younger sister, Rachael, alone. When I think about it, there weren’t too many men in my family. Mostly aunts and female cousins.

Then I met Damon.

He was a mentor at the Big Brothers program in Los Angeles. My mother had arranged the whole thing. One day she brought me into their office. They asked me questions about what I liked and made me draw some pictures. My mom didn’t tell me at first about the program, so I didn’t know why they were asking all those questions. I was just following orders. We went home and I didn’t think twice about it.

Then one day, my mom said I was going to hang out and have some fun with some guy called Damon. "Fun?" I thought to myself. "That sounds great."

Damon and I met at the Santa Monica Pier. At first, I felt nervous about being with someone whom I hadn’t met before. He was much older than me and looked like a business man. He had a real clean-cut look. Neat hair. Shirt tucked in. We played at the arcade, and it was a great time. Before I knew it, my nervousness went away.

We got together once a week, usually on Saturdays. Sometimes we went to the movies, played pool or went swimming. He constantly asked me about school. "How are you doing? Are you studying?" he asked.

I thought, "Why do you care? And what do you want from me?"

It wasn’t easy to trust him. Or anyone. I had trust issues and really couldn’t explain why. That was just who I was. Nobody made me that way. Nobody knew me as well as I did, so why should I trust anybody but myself?

Still, Damon kept coming around. He never gave up on me. Every Saturday we’d get together. He’d always ask those darn questions. After a while, I realized he wasn’t going to leave me, so I started to trust him. He wanted to make me a better person. He told me that if I did better in school, the teachers would like me more and I wouldn’t get in so much trouble. He told me that over and over and over.

I thought about what he said. "Why not? It couldn’t hurt," I said to myself.

But it was really hard to change my old ways. I had to fight off my impulse to clock someone. One time at school I was making a house out of some blocks. One boy came up to me and said that I was doing it wrong. He wanted to take control and show me how to do it. I felt the urge to whack him! "Shut up!" I wanted to scream!

But I didn’t.

Keeping my temper

Instead, Damon’s voice clicked on in my head. I heard him saying, "Try to solve things without fighting. Try to work with others, not against them." I took a deep breath and then told the boy he could help if he wanted to. He did. And I didn’t get into any trouble that day, even though I had wanted to hit him. But I was learning how to control myself.

Still some days were tougher than others. Even though I tried to follow the rules to the tee, some of their rules just didn’t make any sense. So I figured I could do things my way, because it was much easier.

But it only made things worse.

In class one day, my teacher blabbed on and on about something unimportant. I zoned her out and decided to read my book instead. She didn’t like that and got really pissed off. She asked me to stop, but I refused. I started arguing with her about her dumb assignment. Those remarks landed me in the principal’s office.

But things were different this time. The principal went easy on me, because she could see that I was changing for the better. It had been a while since I was in trouble, and this time it was for reading a book.

"I know you’re trying to do better, so I’m going to let you off this time," she said.

"Wow," I thought. "It paid to be good." My life was easier when I behaved. I went back to class with the decision to follow the rules even though they didn’t always make sense to me. I had to do things their way or no way at all. It was hard, but I learned to live with it.

In class, I started noticing how kids with good grades were treated better by the teachers. Those kids got so many compliments for doing well. They even got recognition from the principal. Their parents were so proud.

I wanted that. I wanted to be told that I did a good job. I wanted my mother to be proud of me. I was growing up and didn’t want to be the bully anymore.

By eighth grade, I was really into my classes. In fact, school seemed to be getting easier. My favorite subject though wasn’t about academics. It was folk dancing! We learned dances from all around the world. Being with other people and learning all these steps plus the history behind them was great! The fancy footwork came easily to me. School was so much fun!

Somewhere along the line, I had left that bully mentality behind. In return, I had loads of friends. People wanted to hang around me and do things. Imagine that. I gave up my desire to fight, because when you have friends, you don’t have enemies. I thought things couldn’t get better until … I MADE THE HONOR ROLL!

For the first time in my life, everyone was proud of me. My mom went crazy. She hopped around the house and called up our relatives and bragged about how well I was doing. I felt so proud. She took me out to eat at Red Lobster, my favorite restaurant, for a celebration. That night we ate the best seafood ever. I felt like I had really accomplished something.

When Damon heard about the honor roll, he said, "I always knew you could do it. You just had to want it enough."

I did want it that badly. But I don’t know if I would have bothered if it wasn’t for the influence of my mom and Damon. If it wasn’t for them staying on me so hard, I wouldn’t be the person who I am today.

I’m doing better today

Things have only gotten better over the years. Teachers respect me because I respect them. Sometimes they even pick me as a role model in class because I’m so responsible. I don’t always make the honor roll, but I do push myself in class and try my best. My life is so much easier. And I still meet with Damon. We do lots of different things together. Lately, we’ve gone bike riding. He listens to me while we ride and offers solutions to my problems.

I can only imagine the type of person I would be without the help of my mom or Damon. I’d probably still be that bully. Or worse, I could have dropped out and never realized my potential. That thought scares me.

I see those types at school. They’re mad and don’t care about anything. They do poorly in school and are on the brink of dropping out. They don’t realize how their actions could affect their entire lives. I’m so glad that I realized that.

I keep an eye out for people who are going down the same path that bully Daniel went down. In fact, I had joined an extracurricular program for teens in the city a few years ago. Now I’m a mentor for that program and help young teens. They can relate to me better than to an adult, since we’re closer in age. I try to offer solutions and encourage them, the way Damon did for me.

Sometimes, I even catch myself sounding like Damon and those teachers!

"Try to work with others, not against them," I said to one boy who felt like he had to fight to get his point across.

When I said that, I thought, "Oh man, I’m becoming one of them!"

Then I realized with a smile, "No, I am one of them."