An 11-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee, boy woefully recounted to his mother his experience with middle-school bullies. His mother posted the teary plea online and citizens across the internet responded en masse to say: Keaton Jones, we’ve got your back.
The video begins in the passenger seat of Jones’ vehicle. His cheeks pink and eyes pleading, Keaton recounted the torment he suffered at the whims of his classmates. They mocked his nose, called him ugly and said he had no friends. They threw milk on him, put ham down his clothes. “Just out of curiosity, why do they bully?” he asked. “What’s 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.” His tears became sobs. He closed with a message to both bullies and the targets of their ridicule. “People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it. It’s not their fault,” he said. “But if you are made fun of, just don’t let it bother you. Just stay strong, I guess. It’s hard, but it’ll probably get better one day.”
The post snared millions of views. The internet passed swift judgment in young Keaton’s favor. #StandwithKeaton began trending. Athletes and entertainers rushed to his defense. We’re not talking middleweights or B-listers, oh no. We’re talking Captain America and the Biebs, J-Lo and Posh Spice, Cardi B, Snoop Dogg and Rihanna, anti-bullying stalwarts such as Demi Lovato and Katy Perry.
In a trying year that revealed natural disasters of all shapes, a spooky nuclear showdown and the sexual predation by beloved entertainers, even the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the son of President Donald Trump agreed: This boy’s treatment was intolerable.
The Tennessee Titans invited Keaton to a football game. The quarterback of his hometown Tennessee Volunteers showed up to hang out. He got invitations to Pixar Animation Studios, the UFC headquarters and Walker Stalker Con. Avengers offered to take him to the “Infinity Wars” premiere in Los Angeles. James Carter, director of Union County Public Schools, issued a statement saying the district investigates all reported incidents and “will not tolerate bullying.” Hundreds of miles away, a New Jersey father of two, Joseph Lam, set up a GoFundMe account where almost 2,000 people donated $58,000, possibly to send Keaton to private school or college.
Lam didn’t know the Joneses. He set up the fundraiser Saturday after watching Keaton’s plea three times, he said. Via friends, he reached Jones on Sunday to tell her about it. “Any parent has this in the back of their mind,” Lam said. “We just moved to a new school district. My son and daughter, I worry about them fitting in to the school. … They shouldn’t have to worry about this; (they) should be able to go to school and learn and play and have fun.”
The outpouring of support was overwhelming. She was elated to see so many people rush to her son’s aid, she said. She was equally disheartened by Monday’s backlash. She plans to keep Keaton out of school until January, and his teachers at Horace Maynard are working with her to make sure Keaton stays up to date on his classwork, she said. “I’m trying to maintain my family and remind them that we know who we are,” she said. She hasn’t been on the internet much since Monday. It saddens her that celebrities she admires might think the worst of her, she said. “I really don’t want Snoop to think I’m racist. I wanted him to bring Martha (Stewart). I was hoping we could do some porch-sitting,”