When Brenden Santos told his mom, Diana Santos, that Lt. Gov. Dan Forest had emailed him a Christmas greeting card, she was skeptical it was real.
She didn’t want to discourage her son, so she didn’t say so at the time, but she called the number on the email just to be sure. The person who answered confirmed the message was what it appeared to be. In February, Brenden was invited to a dinner where he got to meet Forest.
“As soon as you got up the stairs, what happened?” Diana asks her son.
“The lieutenant governor was there,” Brenden says.
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“And he came up to you,” Diana continues proudly. “The minute we came up the stairs, (he) said ‘Brenden! Come here, nice to meet you.’ There wasn’t a person who didn’t leave that place without one of his business cards.”
Brenden’s business cards – and, in fact, the reason for his meeting North Carolina’s lieutenant governor in the first place – all tie to this Raleigh sixth-grader’s anti-bullying campaign, Against the Bullying. With light blue wristbands that read, “Hi, there’s only one me. Be my friend, not a bully,” and several self-published books, Brenden wants to raise bullying awareness. He and Diana list of a number of children and adults who have contacted Brenden directly asking for help.
While Brenden would like to see bullying end, he doesn’t hate bullies themselves – it’s their actions he wants to change.
“If something’s going on in their home, they’re going to have to vent all that out,” Brenden said. “They’re not the bad guys.”
Bullying is at its peak early in the school year, Brenden says, so he would like there to be one bullying awareness day in August and another in September.
Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can drive young people to suicide, Brenden points out. So he wants to raise awareness, but also to treat everyone better – bullies and bullied alike.
“It’s not them,” he says. “It’s like saying that a random civilian who makes one mistake is bad. They were probably in the wrong mindset at the time.”
Joel Medley is impressed. The head of the North Carolina Virtual Academy, the online charter school Brenden attends, has a signed copy of the first “Brenden Writes” book as well as one of the blue wristbands in his office. And when he logs in to the online school, his avatar is a picture Brenden drew.
“I am so proud that he has been able to meet the lieutenant governor,” Medley says. “I am just thrilled with him.”
At the heart of Brenden’s anti-bullying campaign is his own experience. Especially in elementary school, Diana says, Brenden was bullied often. It affected his concentration, she says, and he wasn’t able to reach his potential. With the virtual academy, she says, he’s able to escape bullies. He’s able to focus, to write books and to work against bullying.
“A lot of kids, brick and mortar, it works for them,” says Diana. “Kudos! It just turns out that for our child, the opportunity for the Virtual Academy brought out all this.”
To anyone who’s being bullied, Brenden recommends ignoring the bully. A bully wants to get you upset, he points out, so don’t give that satisfaction. He doesn’t think making friends with a bully and letting the bully pick on someone else is a good solution, either – he equates that to turning a blind eye to the actions of a corrupt politician. Rather, ignore or avoid the bully, Brenden says. And if that doesn’t work, tell someone you can trust what is happening. The next step, he says, is to simply ask the bully to stop.
See Brenden’s anti-bullying campaign at againstthebullying.com