I remember when I was a kid and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. My immediate answer was always a waitress. I wanted to be able to serve people and help them with whatever they needed. I think deep down it’s always been in me to want to be a person of service in some way or another.
When I was a kid I was hit with a big wake-up call. It was my first introduction to the bullying experience as well as realizing I was born with a syndrome that caused me to look different. Each of us has our own memories of exactly when (and what) we were told something mean or cruel for the first time. Something that made us feel small, and confused. Mine was in kindergarten and on the playground of Gallindo Elementary School in Austin, Texas.
Each of us is handed different ingredients for the recipe of our life. The ingredients life handed to me in order to create my recipe has shaped me to become a survivor. Coming out on the other side of being bullied has been an experience ranging from momentary lessons to life-long, permanent experiences.
We now live in a world where bullying happens 24/7—whether it be at school, online, or the workplace. So often as victims we are told it gets better, just keep your head up. The reality of the situation is we have so many people simply saying those words but not giving an in-depth explanation of HOW it could possibly reach the destination of “better.”
The documentary about my life, A Brave Heart, I feel, is that very explanation. I like to say this is my film, but it’s everyone’s story—everyone’s story meaning not that people share my exact experience of finding what I call the “bad” video when I was 17. Or the views it had. Or the comments it gathered. We can’t compare/contrast with each other because each of our experiences with bullying is different. But the pain felt? It’s the same. And it never fully leaves. I’m so humbled to be able to use my journey to share everyone’s story. We don’t sugarcoat anything in the film. The harsh comments I receive on a daily basis, on all platforms and devices, are shown and openly discussed.
When we started the process of making the documentary, Sara (our director and producer) and I agreed we were making it for the kids. We made it for the students in every classroom; for the parents who want so desperately to protect their kids from being bullied. It has been a dream of mine since day one to be able to have as many students as possible see the film in schools that wanted to see it.
Due to our PG-13 rating, that dream isn’t coming as easily as we hoped, because of the heavy topics and themes that are talked about in the film—like Tina Meier’s story. Tina was so strong to share her story of losing her daughter Megan to suicide at 13 after being bullied online. And sharing the true harsh reality of the comments I receive on social media on a daily basis, we won’t have the chance to be in as many schools as we had hoped.
It’s hard for me to understand because my story is only one of so many others who deal with—and have dealt with—instances of bullying and cyberbullying in the severest of ways. It feels unfair to not have the chance to open student’s eyes to how harmful their words can be, or how much it hurts. How much it hurts every single time. We shouldn’t only be having these discussions across the media after it’s too late for a young person to know there is a way through it.
The importance of having an open and honest dialogue about what is really happening every day with students and adults in the workplace is crucial. Our entire team has worked so hard to be able to share this documentary with so many people. We will continue to work as hard as we can and raise as much awareness as we can so that the hope is shared and that the realities are heard—heard in the sense that even though some comments and/or stories are very difficult to hear, are painful to watch, and are uncomfortable to discuss, you never know whose life it might save if you’re just given the chance.
With contribution by Sara Hirsh Bordo. A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story is now playing in theaters.