Turning tough times into triumph
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON – When Rudy Washington IV became the long-term target of a bully, he turned a negative experience into a positive one by developing a program to teach others about bullying prevention.
Rudy’s Sock Drive and No-Bully Zone Rally launches its inaugural event from 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Trenton Village Theatre, 2447 W. Jefferson. The event will provide children with tools to prevent bullying, and includes information booths, a meet-and-greet and raffles.
For more information, go to Washington’s his Facebook page, Rudy’s Sock Drive and No-Bully Zone.
Washington, 12, originally from Belleville, already had been a volunteer through his sock drives for the homeless when he decided to use his acting ability and outgoing personality to teach his peers about how to recognize bullying, stop being bystanders and change their environment into one that offers support and kindness for the targets, while teaching bullies to take responsibility, develop empathy and modify their behavior.
Washington’s sock drives began when he was 10, when he learned that socks were the most requested item at homeless shelters. He not only founded Rudy’s Sock Drive, a 501(c)(3), and spearheaded sock collections through different groups, he and his parents delivered the socks to non-profit groups and homeless people on street corners. During the colder months he and his parents provided homeless people with hand and foot warmers, gloves, hats, scarves and coats.
When Washington became the target of one particular bully at school, whenever his harasser was disciplined, he seemed to come back to school angrier, and directed his rage at Washington.
He and his parents decided to try homeschooling to give him a respite. As Washington researched bullying and learned as much as he could about it, he decided he wanted to teach others about recognizing and preventing harassment, from which, in March 2016, Rudy’s No-Bully Zone peer presentation developed.
Traveling to elementary and middle schools, Washington raises awareness, helps turn bystanders into advocates for the bullied, and gives students and teachers tools to begin to change the culture in their school. The No-Bully Zone presentations also gave him new places to hold sock drives for the homeless.
Zaynab Boussi-Mackie, a teacher a Miller Elementary School in Dearborn praised Washington’s presentation and performance.
“Rudy’s story of triumph resonated in his performance and his anti-bullying message to always do good and give back,” she said.
Stephanie Zackrie Avery, a teacher at Vandenberg World Cultures Academy in Southfield, said Washington’s story of triumph moved and motivated her students.
“The students were fully engaged and learned great strategies of how to handle bullies,” she said.
In May, Washington’s family moved to Grovetown, Ga., where in September started seventh grade at Columbia Middle School. On his first day of school his mother said he ran back inside to get his cards so he could tell his new classmates about his sock drives for the homeless.
His October visit to Michigan returns him to the stage of the Trenton Village Theatre, not as a character in a Downriver Youth Performing Arts Center play, but as himself, launching the inaugural Rudy’s Sock Drive and No Bully Zone Rally, which he hopes to make an annual event.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)