Many people ask me how I got into this business. “Were you bullied in school? Do you have some tragic tale of woe to tell? Are you completely damaged from the harrassment?” Well, I hate to dissappoint you, but NO. Not really. I wasn’t bullied any more or less than any other kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. But I do have a story that lead me up to this point. And here it is:
When I was a kid, I lived what seemed like two separate lives. You see, from the ages of about 5 to 16 I was a competitive swimmer. A nationally ranked competitive swimmer. I had won all sorts of awards on my team such as “Swimmer of the Year” (5 times), “Swimmer of the Month” (so many times they stopped giving it to me), “Most Inspirational” (twice) and so on. I had won the Junior Olympics 3 times and placed in the top 6 more times than I can count. Although I never made the Olympics, let’s just say it was a pretty successful run.
So, to anybody I swam with or against, I was very “popular”. No matter what I did, it was accepted and even celebrated because I had accomplished so much. If someone made fun of me or had anything to say, they were humbled in the pool.
I had long hair and was wild. In fact, my nickname when I was swimming was WildMan (taken from a former swim coach). You can still see that name reflected in some posts from old friends on Facebook. I would do almost anything. But, as a swimmer, I got away with it. I was probably looking for attention and therefore became a performer, but that’s a whole nother blog. Long story short, I was super popular because of my accomplishments.
Then there’s what I call my second life. My school life. You see, I was the same person.. wild, crazy and a bit impulsive, but in an atmosphere that was way less accepting. An atmosphere of conformity and sameness. When I was a sophomore in high school I changed schools. I went to a school where kids used clothing as status symbols and everybody tried to look the same. If you were different than the rest, then you were DIFFERENT! And I was definitely different.
So I had my share of kids that didn’t accept me for me. A couple of bullying incidents that stuck out in my mind. I remember when D. B. and D.L. (I don’t want to use their real names here) chased me home from middle school and spit on my glasses and made me clean them off. They did it twice. I remember in high school when J.S. threw a shampoo bottle at me and hit me in the head. I remember when the bully group of the school threatened me and a friend. We got the entire school to gang up on them all at once. They never bothered me again.
So, as you can see, there were a few incidents. But I don’t think any more or less than the average kid. I would guess less than most kids today.
But all of this doesn’t answer the question “Why did you get into this business?”. Here is the rest of the story…
Because of my constant need for attention, because of my background, and because of my work ethic (from swimming), I did become a performer. In 1998 I created Animal Magic “The Only Magic Show in Southern California With All Live Exotic Pets”. And found a lot of success performing for private parties, birthdays, festivals and more. But it wasn’t enough. Although I had a theme of “You can be anything you want to be, just by using the magic inside of you” (a theme I am very proud to still use to this day), I wanted something more. To really make a difference in kids lives. You see, by this time I had two children of my own and heard other parents complaining about society and how difficult it is to raise a child in this time.
So, by 2004, I was performing my Animal Magic Show all over Southern California and at only a few schools. Maybe 20 or 30 schools a year. As I would travel from school to school, I started asking the PTA president and the principal what the single biggest problem was that I could help with. The answer was almost always the same. Bullying. It was bullying. This was way before “bullying” became the buzz-word it is today.
I started to remember the incidents that happened when I was a kid. I started to relate to the troubles that my own children were going through. So that year I committed to creating a Bully Prevention Assembly that would REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I went to the library and checked out all the books I could on the subject. I wrote down everything I could remember about my own experiences and my own children’s experiences. I went on-line and ordered books and videos on the subject. For about 6 months I learned everything I could about the subject of bullying.
Then and only then did I start working on The Bully Game. I wanted a show that was interactive and super fun, but had actual content that would help the students and staff make the changes they needed at their school.
You see, I had done my homework, been on both the popular side and the victim side. I had made fun of others (regretably) and been made fun of. I had children that were either going through it or were about to. I finally had the experience to put together an assembly that really meant something.
In 2006 I released and started performing The Bully Game. It was an immediate hit. Then, shortly after, I created The Bully Prevention Parenting Seminar so that students and parents could speak the same language. Since their creations, I’ve performed over 3000 assemblies on bullying. Made a difference in hundreds of thousands of children’s lives. Even created a follow-up called The Bully Game 2 – The Sequel.
Sometimes I’m asked “Do the kids really listen? Do they get it? Do you think you can really make a change?” Well, I’ll answer that with a quick story: I was performing a repeat assembly at a school that had me the year before. And a little girl ran up to me and said “That girl was gothicking, that girl was gothicking!” She, of course, meant gossipping. Even though she had the word wrong she remembered the lessons from the previous year. She remembered the gossipping lesson and the reporting it to an adult lesson. And this was a year later. That was one of my most satisfying moments.
Every time I walk away from an assembly I say to myself, “I have the greatest job in the world. I get to have fun and make difference in the lives of thousands of children. Now that’s a great deal!”
I appreciate your comments.
Dedicated to reducing bullying at your school!
John Abrams – www.AmazingSchoolAssemblies.com
Southern California’s Top Elementary School Assembly Performer