Chris Hollyfield might be short in stature, but the 4-foot-4-inch actor, wrestler and power lifter delivered a big lesson to students at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy Monday.
Using his dwarfism as a teaching aid, Hollyfield spoke out against bullying and teasing to a rapt audience of first and second graders. The message: get to know your classmates, think before speaking and dont be a bystander to bullying.
I went through a lot and even today as an adult I still hear things, but I cant fight everybody, the 43-year-old motivational speaker said. The bully, he or she doesnt matter. A bully is someone who is not happy with themselves If youre happy about yourself you wouldnt call other people names.
Since 2001 Hollyfield has juxtaposed the bullying of his younger years with the success he enjoys now. Bullying is nothing new, but people are finally taking it seriously, he said between assemblies.
Its a shame that its taken so long and so many deaths to talk about it, Hollyfield said. Theres no reason to get picked on. People need to respect you for who you are, point blank.
Physical education teacher Robin Spencer, a 17-year veteran of Alexandria City Public Schools, initially cringed when her students laughed uproariously at a video of Hollyfield before meeting him face-to-face.
I know our children I was disappointed they were laughing at him, she said. We have children with special needs, so this just shocked me.
But its all part of the program. Not long after Hollyfield emerged from behind the curtain, he began fielding requests to serve as a stand-in father or uncle for some of the children.
A victim of bullying as a youngster, Spencer believes the practice isnt necessarily more prevalent today, but more prominent.
Its out in the open. Students arent afraid to target another person, she said.
Hollyfield hopes his presence inspires children to think twice about picking on each other. The consequences of bullying arent always easy to discern, but there are consequences, he warns.
I had to cope with it, live with and Im going to die with it, Hollyfield said. Im for the prevention of bullying, not intervention Im the present, past and future and as long as Im here, I can be that voice.