This is the story of two high school students who passed each other every day in the hallway but never said hello. He noticed her because she was a little different than the other kids and she noticed him because, well, let’s just be honest here, who doesn’t notice the quarterback of the football team, especially when he’s so popular and handsome. I suppose this is a love story, but not in the way you’re thinking and certainly not in the way anyone ever could have imagined.
The girl is 16-year-old Chy Johnson, a sophomore at Queen Creek High School in Arizona, but the truth is it could just as well be Shen or Nisky or Colonie High School. That’s just geography, because what happened to Chy at Queen Creek is happening all over the country. It’s happening today, right now, in a school in your neighborhood. Chy was born with a brain disorder making her what many might call “special needs”. Although anyone who has the privilege of meeting her would say you can drop the “needs” part because Chy is just plain special and the best friend anyone could have.
Unfortunately, not everyone was interested in getting past what they saw on the outside with Chy; instead they viewed her as an easy target. High school can be a horribly mean place that breeds bullies and there was no shortage of these ignorant little miscreants at Queen Creek. They took turns tormenting Chy every single day and when the bus dropped her at home her mother was left trying to dry the tears and make her beautiful girl understand why people she was nice to were so vicious in return.
One particular day for Chy was worse than any that had come before and her mother could tell right away, asking her what had happened to make her so upset. “A girl threw garbage at me,” Chy said as she broke down. Enough. Chy’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, was friends with another mom whose son was well-known and respected at school: Carson Jones. Tall, smart, the star athlete who everyone looked up to. Elizabeth emailed Carson directly, told him what was going on and asked if he could find out which kids were picking on Chy so she would have names to take to the Principal’s office when she reported this abuse. Little did she know what would happen next.
Carson found Chy and told her that the way she was being treated was ending that day. Even though she was in a different grade and clearly much different than the cool kids Carson normally hung out with, he sat with her at lunch that day and everyday after. He walked her to and from her classes so no one would dare raise a hand to her, and when he couldn’t be there he asked other players on the football team to take his place and protect Chy.
Very quickly the word spread far and wide at that high school that if you valued your life you would leave this little girl alone. As the kids return from their holiday break and resume classes this month, Chy Johnson can walk the hallways at her school, ride the bus and go anywhere in town without fear of someone (who can only be described as “trash”) throwing so much as a nasty look her way.
You know what’s funny? The Queen Creek High School football team – the Bulldogs – went a perfect 10-0 this season, but their biggest victory came off the field. Those players, led by a gentleman named Carson Jones, were already champions without ever strapping on a helmet. The Arizona State Legislature plans to honor the team with a proclamation and they are up for a national athletic award for showing kindness to a child whose only crime in life is being a little different. Bravo Bulldogs!
I wanted to tell you the story of Carson and Chy because bullying has become an epidemic at our schools. I’ve read a half-dozen studies and surveys and they all agree that roughly 1 in 6 children is bullied at school. Making it worse, a recent article in the New York Times said that bullies are deliberately targeting autistic kids. And then there is the saddest truth of all, that every year we see more and more teenagers committing suicide because of these relentless, heartless attacks. Social media has become an anti-social outlet for these thugs to tag, label and hurt innocent children from the safety of their laptop. How do we change that?
There is nothing special in the water at Queen Creek High School in Arizona, just a boy who knows right from wrong and did the right thing. It takes guts to turn your back on the cliques and befriend the unpopular child. I refuse to believe Carson Jones is the only young man brave enough to do it. Right now in every high school in our Capital Region there is a lonely child being targeted by a bully. Ask your child to open their eyes and then their hand, extending it to this boy or girl. Even something as simple as sitting with them at lunch can change a life. Who knows… it may even save a life.
I told you at the beginning this was a love story and I believe it is. Every love story has a hero, you see. I think that hero is you.