Photo Courtesy of Rita Parker
Rita Parker is 26 years old and Founder and CEO of Keep True, which is a non-profit organization to provide affordable and accessible opportunities in the arts for military families.
This is Rita’s heartbreaking story of being bullied through school and her triumph to the successful strong woman she is today! I am proud to call her a friend and an inspiration of strength.
Mark Leitao: What made you want to share your story?
Rita Parker: I want people who experience bullying to know that there is life after the intense level of pain you deal with… and after dealing with bullying that they will become a stronger person than what they were giving themselves credit for. With time and patience they will be ok.
ML: Tell us when did bully first start for you and why?
RP: It really started in high school, my freshmen year. In my home room class a group of kids took my book bag and stole all the contents inside and ran around the school with my stuff. It took me half a day to find everything. That’s when I knew that it will not be an easy 4 years. I think I was a target of bullying because I was a nerd or geek or because there was something that made them think I was different. As I learned, bullying doesn’t have or need a reason. That’s why this story is important, victims of bullying shouldn’t blame themselves it’s far more complicated.
ML: So the bullying to your knowledge was for no other reason besides you being different?
RP: Yea it was always something. Either I was to smart, or not smart enough, or my butt. It was always something. I learned that it was not about me but about the bully. Bullies try to find something, and 9/10 times they were bullied themselves.
ML: How did your family respond or not respond, and how did your school step in to put an end to the bullying?
RP: At that time, My family never really knew what to do. They never dealt with bullying before. They just thought I was going through a phase, or that it was in my head. It was my fault, I was blamed. So I gave up. My family never had to deal with that. So I was done, I moved on. I just wanted school done, and I needed to leave. I didn’t want to be in NYC anymore.
My School didn’t do anything. I repeat my school didn’t do anything. If I can compare my experience in bullying, it is Gaslight. It’s an old movie You need to watch it for you to understand. Gaslight is about this rich woman who recently got married to a con artist. The husband along with his girlfriend (I think) set up this whole plan to make this woman go mad and self-destruct. That’s what it felt like. Seriously, before the Bullying Documentary came out, Gaslight is a perfect example.
ML: Did you seek therapy?
RP: I tried therapy for a while, but I hated it. I realized is that I needed to do was fight through the emotions and get my life back. I had to learn to figure out what I wanted and how I felt about myself first. I needed to learn how to overcome and love myself again, and I knew therapy was not going to help. So I exercised, went to school, studied, and got a hobby. Overtime I learned to figure out what I wanted and who I am. But I knew It was going to take time.
ML: Can you delve a bit more into how the school ignored you?
RP: Here’s another situation: I was walking to the guidance councilor’s office. And a group of kids splashed dirty water on my back. Two teachers and a couple of other students watched and did nothing. I ran up stairs got my bag and tried to leave. I was stopped by a couple of administrative officials and they took me to the office and laughed at the situation…and one gave me a used shirt to wear. I took the shirt and left the school. When I say the school did nothing, I mean nothing. I went home the principle called my mother saying I cut school. When I told my mother what happened, she believed the school over me. I even showed her the shirt. Nothing. I had no support from my school. My family didn’t understand and the school didn’t care.
ML: How long did the bullying last?
RP: It lasted all through the 4 years, and a little after graduation.
ML: What are some of the things that were done to you?
RP: Oh man! So much.
My bra was snapped, MY stuff was stolen and I mean everything from clothing to school supplies…everything. There were a few times I remember well.
Gym Class: After Gym I had to change to go to my next class. I came up stairs and saw my clothes shredded and ripped all over the locker rooms. The girls were giggling and it was awful. So I went to my locker and there was a catalog from a funeral home with photos of coffins and my name and my mother’s name on a coffin. I told a teacher but he didn’t do anything, and he even said that I provoked it because I got into a design program…it was my fault. I couldn’t believe it. So I went home and cried all night. It was so bad, I knew I was alone. I mean, I had friends who dealt with stuff similar, but it was never to the extent as mine.
Boys: In high school I thought a boy liked me and was actually interested in me as a person. After a conversation we had over the phone, I didn’t know that the phone was recorded and his boys were listening. The next day at school, I was laughed at and I didn’t know why. Turns out, the recording was passed around and guys were making kissing sounds. I avoided the guy. It later turns out that there was a bet going around on who to take my virginity. I was done. I just wanted school over with. Between death threats and people set out to hurt me, I just wanted to leave school. So I made it my mission to graduate ASAP.
I remember it was so bad my junior and senior years that my family had friends who were retired officers who drove me to and from work.
ML: What advice would you give to anyone dealing with bullying?
RP: Don’t Stop living your life. You did nothing wrong, and get help and tell as many adults as possible. Usually if your being bullied, it is because that person is being bullied themselves. Keep waking up a living your life. That’s how you win, but be patient with yourself. Just going through high school is emotional enough, especially with the fears of insecurities of another. The biggest mistake I made was not being vocal enough and going to the police. My school worked really hard to keep it in-house.
ML: What are some coping skills you used and how did you find the strength throughout this ordeal?
RP: What made it easier to cope and eventually find my strength was my Rita Rules.
I learned if you give yourself rules and regulations everything will eventually fall into place. You will get stronger and you will find who you are, but please understand something, I am 26 years old, and it took me years to find myself again and what was best for me. It wasn’t until I was about 23 did I truly fight for the right to be me. Personal Rules made it easier to know what not to do, and what I mean is my Rita Rules. I have rules for everything. It teaches me to cope and fight and learn to protect the individual. That’s right Keep True is important to me.
I know what’s like to feel off-balance and needing a way to express and find a way to cope with change and communicate. I learned that the arts offer another avenue to communication and connection, and hopefully it can help identify the signs of bullying and get proper help.
Interview by BKO Guest Writer, LGBT and Equality Consultant, and Social Media and Events Assistant Mark Leitao