When Holly Reynolds was young, she and her friends felt like bullying was just a rough part of growing up; what they would not realize for years to come is that the negative effects of bullying clung on even into adulthood and can be fatal.
They were teased based on their race, sexual orientation, and weight. Not only was the harassing verbal, but Reynolds said it became physical; for example, her friend was shoved down the stairs at school. Such bullying impacted Reynolds and her friends for the rest of their lives. During their 20s, two of Reynolds’ closest friends, both gay, one being a drag queen, both lost their lives due to the unresolved effects of the constant torment they endured.
In September 2011, Reynolds’ close friend told Reynolds her daughter was being bullied at school and becoming aggressive. Hours later, Reynolds was reading national news that Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old student in New York, ended his life after extensive bullying at school.
“Everyone’s connected,” Reynolds said, having an epiphany. “Bullying is a serious issue and we need to help each other.”
This realization led Reynolds to ultimately establish “Fight Club,” a boxing anti-bullying program for teens who have been bullied themselves or want to help stand up for victims of bullying.
The loss of close friends left a tender spot in Reynolds, leading to bouts of depression on and off through her twenties. After working through these emotions through therapy, she learned that the best way to release some of the internalized anger was to get into physical activity. It was not only a way to let out aggression, but to also become physically fit and connect her mind and body.
“It was a perfect fit,” Reynolds said. “It’s constantly hard and forced me to connect my mind and body. You have to be ready when they shout commands. You have to push through it, push yourself. You push aside your ‘I can’t’ thoughts – that’s how it’s empowering.”
Reynolds, who began boxing two years ago with Title Boxing Club in Prairie Village, said she wishes she had been involved in such activities at a young age. She approached Title Boxing Club and they approved her idea to offer the free anti-bullying boxing program for teens.
The program began in January and ended this week on March 25. The program was so successful it will be offered again this summer June 3 through July 22 each Sunday at 3p.m. at Title Boxing Club.
“As a teen you look outward at others a lot and the answers aren’t always there. Boxing has you turn to yourself for answers and teaches you to trust yourself,” Reynolds said. “It’s hard to come forward and say you’re bullied or be a bystander who wants to help. So we were surprised by our numbers. We had 42 students enrolled in the program, with at least 10 on a waiting list…(This summer) we want to get more spaces for kids and reach as many people as possible.”
The classes consist of intensive training to help people get fit and confident. After the physical workout, there is 30 minutes of guest speakers to lead group discussions regarding bullying experiences, possible solutions, and goals.
“We don’t want kids to feel like they’re in school, rather we want to use the power of language in an open forum,” Reynolds said. “School programs aren’t enough. (Anti-bullying) needs to be reinforced at home and we need to look at bullies. Where is bullying coming from? Without (examining) that question, it’s hard to fight bullying. Fight Club is the first step so people don’t fall apart. People think ‘You’re young, it happens, get over it.’ Not everyone gets through it. It can carry on for years.”
A recent study found over 35 percent of Kansas City students grades 3-12 are regularly bullied. Reynolds said the class is open to any teen seeking solutions to bullying. For the upcoming session the program will require either the student or their parent write an essay about how they are being bullied, or how they would like to learn to stand up for change, if they are in a bystander situation. Also, the next session will have several previous students who have been selected (based on attitude, attendance and attentiveness) to be become mentors for new students.
Reynolds said the last class had 52 percent males and 48 percent females this winter. Though boxing has highlighted male athletes throughout history, Reynolds said the girls were not intimated. When discussing if boys and girls should be separated, the girls said, “No, I can punch like a boy.”
Reynolds said she is extremely excited for the upcoming Fight Club class this summer. Thinking of the anti-bullying program, she said, “This is easily the best things I’ve ever done.”