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Fighting back against being ‘Bullied’

Twin Cities resident Jamie Nabozny, a speaker and documentary filmmaker, appeared at Woodbury High School on Oct. 16 to discuss his film “Bullied” and the bullying he dealt with during his time in school. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

Students hear tales of bullying time and time again, but in a rare presentation, Woodbury High School freshmen were able to put a face to the stories.

WHS students viewed the documentary “Bullied,” made by Twin Cities resident Jamie Nabozny, on Oct. 16 after which he spoke with students.

“He’s an amazing motivational speaker,” WHS Assistant Principal Ginger Garski said. “It’s so authentic.”

Following Nabozny’s presentation, students participated in a panel featuring a representative from the Washington County Attorney’s Office, a school guidance counselor, the adviser for the school’s Gay Straight Aliance, the school resource officer and two student representatives.

“It was a long and kind of intense morning,” Garski said.

The primary message during last week’s presentation was that students need to take action in order to stop bullying.

“The bystander plays a very important role,” Garski said. “Whether they realize it or not, their non-action reinforces the bullying.”

“I firmly believe that students care about other students,” Nabozny said. “But most of the time they’re not told how or given permission to stand up for what’s right.”

Nabozny grew up in the small northern Wisconsin town of Ashland, which sits on the south shore of Lake Superior.

Tales of ’a survivor’

While in middle school and high school, Nabozny was targeted for being gay.

Nabozny was so relentlessly abused – verbally and physically – in school that he eventually moved to Minneapolis to escape it.

After realizing many other young people endured similar fates he decided to fight back.

“For a long time I was tired of people feeling sorry for me,” Nabozny said. “I wanted to see myself as a survivor. I fought back for all the kids who couldn’t fight back.”

With the help of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Nabozny won a landmark lawsuit, and $900,000 in damages, in federal court against the administrators who allowed the abuse to happen and who failed to protect him in school.

“It’s a very real story,” Garski said. “He knows how to make it readily understandable and relatable.”

Nabozny said his experiences with bullying greatly changed his life because it has inspired him to raise awareness about how much words can hurt.

“The biggest lie kids are told is ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,’” Nabozny said. “I don’t remember the physical pain from the beatings, but I remember the words.”

Garski said WHS will remain dedicated to educating students about the harms of bullying.

“As a culture, we have too much bullying going on,” she said, “even a little bit is too much bullying.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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