It takes courage to confront a bully, to talk openly about the pain they can inflict. Maybe that's why star athletes, celebrities and thousands of other people are embracing Keaton Jones, a student in Tennessee who talks about bullies that persecute him at school, in a video that went viral over the weekend.
Keaton Jones' story spread online and across the nation, with his sister, Lakyn Jones, acting as his representative and fielding thousands of offers of support. It all started with a video that their mother, Kimberly Jones, posted on Facebook, of her son tearfully describing the hurt and frustration he felt after being bullied at school.
The video had been recorded in Kimberly Jones' car, reportedly after she picked her son up from school because he was too worried about being abused to go to lunch with his classmates. After it was posted on Facebook, it spread quickly on Twitter.
In the video, Keaton Jones asked, "Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What the point of it? Why do you find joy in taking innocent people, and finding a way to be mean to them? It's not OK."
After describing the treatment he has received — being called names and insulted, having milk poured on him, and other things — Jones clearly became increasingly emotional. He also said he doesn't want anyone else to be bullied, either.
"It's not OK," Jones said. "People that are different don't need to be criticized about it. It's not their fault. But if you are made fun of, just don't let it bother you. Just stay strong, I guess."
Lasting just over a minute, the video ends with a tearful Keaton Jones saying, "It's hard, but it'll probably get better one day."
Lakyn Jones said that her brother attends Horace Maynard Middle School, in Maynardville, Tenn. — about 10 miles northeast of Knoxville.
After the video began to spread, college and pro athletes in Tennessee reached out — including University of Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who spent part of Sunday with the young man.
"So I got the chance to spend the day with my new best bud Keaton," Guarantano said via Twitter. "It was unbelievable to get to know him and realize that we have a lot in common. This dude is very special and has changed my life forever. Now I have the little brother I always wanted! God bless you my man."
As attention spread, so did interest in Keaton Jones' family — and on Monday morning, reports began to emerge that Kimberly Jones had posted multiple images of Confederate flags on her Facebook account.
After those images triggered speculation and criticism, Lakyn Jones wrote on Twitter Monday, "My family will continue to support each other. You all can hate and tweet all you want but our faith cant be shaken."
By the time that news broke, aGo Fund Me campaign that was started by a man named Joseph Lam in the name of Keaton Jones and his mother had raised more than $58,000. In an update, Lam wrote, "As many of you know I paused the donations as well as the comments. As I sit back and read these comments and watched the video again I feel I have to make this update. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE MOM!! However passing judgement on her before you know her is a form of bullying."
Saying that Keaton Jones has "a heart of gold," Lam said he was in discussions with Go Fund Me about how to proceed. He would like for the money to go toward Keaton's education, he said.
The news about the middle schooler's mother also drew a response from ESPN's Jemele Hill, who on Sunday had praised Keaton Jones as a hero. She also invited him to visit ESPN as her guest.
As reports concerning images on Kimberly Jones' Facebook account began to make the rounds, Hill wrote, "I've seen her posts and if true, I'd say there's potential for a great, teachable moment here. My offer for Keaton to visit ESPN stands, because what happened to him was cruel. That said, this is a stark example of selective empathy."
The Tennessee Titans' Delanie Walker and the Nashville Predators' P.K. Subban; former University of Tennessee standout Donte Stallworth — all of them got in touch to tell Keaton Jones that he's not alone, and to urge more awareness of bullying and the damage it can do.
"This brought tears to my eyes," Stallworth wrote of Jones' video. "We've gotta do better as humans! Thank you to all who work on anti-bullying campaigns."
Walker offered the young man and his family tickets to see the Titans play on New Year's Eve. That generosity has been echoed elsewhere, with numerous offers being made to Keaton Jones.
NBA star LeBron James tweeted,"Damn right! Bullies are straight up wack, corny, cowards, chumps, etc, etc! Keaton keep your head up buddy and push forward! You're the best."
Actor Chris Evans invited Keaton Jones and his mother to attend the Avengers: Infinity War premiere next year. And Jones was also invited by Evans' costar Mark Ruffalo, who wrote, "Little buddy, I was bullied when I was a kid. You are right #ItGetsBetter! You are my own personal super hero. Protect Yo Heart. You got a pal in the Hulk."
Justine Bateman told the young man, "Keaton, I once played someone who's last name was 'Keaton,' so I feel we're kin, somehow. I think you're a babe. Those guys don't know what they're talking about. ;)"
Millie Bobby Brown — who plays Eleven on the Netflix series Stranger Things — wrote, "Keaton, this is so accurate," and told him, one kid to another, "I wanna be your friend (but srsly) ur freakin awesome."
Lakyn Jones told her, "Millie, you've made his night! He loves stranger things and you!"
She later added, "Thank you again! He screamed when he saw you tweeted me!"
Another thank you went to Bernice King — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter. Responding to her words of encouragement, Lakyn Jones wrote that it's "overwhelming for me but he's so happy about the awareness it's bringing."
In a more blanket reply, Jones wrote, "Seeing my brother's face all over the internet and people giving him support is the most amazing feeling in the world."
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