Anti-Bullying Week: Why two brothers are sounding off against bullying
Punched, pushed around, spat at, picked on every day at school... This was daily life for a young Bangor man who suffered from autism. To mark Anti-Bullying Week, Alexis Mulligan and brother Daniel, who also fell prey to bullies, have written a song to encourage young people who are suffering to speak up.
Two brothers who both endured years of horrific bullying at school have collaborated on a new song to mark Anti-Bullying Week 2015 which starts today.
The essence of this year's theme 'What Bullying Means to Me' has been captured in the hard-hitting and moving lyrics of A Storm is Coming After Me written by Alexis Mulligan from Bangor.
Alexis (24), who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, is in his third year of a Life Skills course at South Eastern Regional College in Newtownards where he wrote the song as part of a special lesson on bullying.
It was inspired by his own traumatic experience of bullying in both primary and secondary school.
His older brother Daniel (32), a talented and established musician, who also suffered bullying at school, came on board and worked with Alexis to put music to the lyrics.
Daniel then contacted Mark Adair, a local studio producer who generously donated his time and experience to record the song.
Mark too was also sadly a victim of bullying in adolescence and offered Daniel free recording time in his professional studio in Bangor to ensure the song was 'radio ready' for Anti-Bullying Week this week.
As schools and youth groups across Northern Ireland get ready to take part in this year's Anti-Bullying Week the two brothers talked about their experience in the hope of reaching out to any other child going through a similar ordeal.
Alexis suffered years of victimisation both at primary and secondary school.
The bullying in the playground became so bad in secondary school that the only way the teachers felt they could protect Alexis was to keep him in class through break and lunch.
"School was an absolute nightmare for me, everywhere I turned there was always someone who had reason to pick on me either because of the way I talked or because I wore braces," he says.
"It was daily and it was constant and was a mixture of name-calling and making fun of me. I was also hit, pushed and pinched a lot of the time, though the worst incident was when I was badly beaten up by an older boy.
"I had a bag of sweets in the playground and I was happy enough to share them out.
"A boy came over and I gave him a gobstopper and then he came back over and I gave him another sweet and all of a sudden he pushed me to the ground and started to constantly punch me in the face until I was black and blue.
"He had to be yanked off me and I was taken to hospital and had a broken nose. I was about 13 at the time and the boy got suspended from school for three days."
Alexis was picked on so much that he couldn't join the other children at break and lunch and instead was kept in with just his classroom assistant.
While it was a measure taken to protect him it did mean he missed out on playtime and interacting with other children.
"The school tried to help," he recalls. "I had a classroom assistant whose main duty was to keep me safe at break and lunch time but to do this, I was kept in a classroom where I could watch DVDs, instead of being outside in the fresh air, playing with others.
"It did make me feel safe but I also felt as if I was missing out."
Alexis never understood why he was being bullied and throughout school felt helpless.
He says it has had a lasting impact: "I am still unsure who to trust in new places. Anyone could be a bully and I wonder who is going to start it all up again.
"I have joined a Jujitsu club and it has made me feel more confident about myself. I would recommend it."
Alexis is surprised and delighted that his song - penned from the heart about his own personal experience - has now been recorded and is being included as part of Anti-Bullying Week.
He explains what motivated him to write it and why he chose the theme of a storm: "To me a storm is the best way to describe it because, for the person who is being bullied, it is like standing in the middle of a big storm.
"I thought writing a song was the best way to express what I had experienced from bullying and my brother was just the right person to do the music for me.
"I am really excited and astonished that it has been recorded and I feel very proud that it might be put to good purpose now.
"I would actually be thrilled to think that anyone might be able to make it through the bullying experience as well as I did with the help of my song."
Daniel, who has made a career as a musician, was delighted to be able to help develop his brother's song by putting music to it and refining the lyrics.
The 32-year-old is a self-taught acoustic guitarist and singer. He has been playing at open-mic appearances and local gigs since he was 24 under the name 'Dolbro Dan' and has made several recordings of original material.
He says his biggest claim to fame is a cover version of 'Hollis Brown' by Bob Dylan, which has more than 100,000 views on YouTube.
He too was bullied at school from the age of five until he was 12. It also included name calling, taunts, intimidation and physical assault.
"There was a group of bullies who picked on different people and they would just single you out and spend the day making your life a misery," he says.
"It does impact on you and at the time it did upset me and made me feel weak and vulnerable - and also hurt and bitter about disloyal friends.
"I would say even today it has left me with a fear of confrontation and I have difficulty asserting myself. I would always be very wary of aggressive types and keep clear of them.
"Looking back though I think if I could do anything differently I would show compassion to the bully. It can be very disarming. There's a good chance that behind the scenes, they have their own bullies. Their acts of cruelty are an unconscious attempt by them to regain their power and feel strong by dominating others."
Daniel believes that pack mentality is to blame for a lot of bullying in schools and that teachers and professionals should be trained to recognise signs of gang groups in the classroom and be given tactics to deal with it.
He was delighted to work with Alexis on his song and says he feels indebted to Mark Adair of Vega Sound Studio for offering to record his brother's single.
Daniel feels that the song is powerful enough to reach out to children struggling through any kind of ordeal.
"I think it could apply to many situations and not just bullying and even children who are suffering abuse at home," he adds.
"If it helps even one person then that would be great."
Lee Kane, regional anti-bullying co-ordinator for the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) - organisers of the annual campaign, has congratulated Alexi and Daniel on their song.
"The song which they have written and recorded captures the turmoil of bullying and the impact it has on children, young people and adults. What people who are experiencing bullying must remember is that there is help available," he says.
"I have no doubt that this song, which is part of the Anti-Bullying Week 2015 campaign, will resonate with children and young people across Northern Ireland and further afield.
"I would encourage everyone who hears it to take a few moments to think about what bullying means to them, about what that storm looks like and how, together, we can make the sun shine."
More than 700 schools and youth groups across Northern Ireland will be taking part in special activities throughout this week to mark the anti-bullying campaign which is supported by Translink.
Under the theme 'What Bullying Means To Me', the week provides an opportunity to focus on our understanding of what bullying is all about.
Lee Kane explains the importance of Anti Bullying Week: "Earlier this year the Minister for Education John O'Dowd announced plans to introduce new anti-bullying legislation to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"Among other moves, this legislation aims to provide a single, common definition of bullying for use in all schools in Northern Ireland.
"Bullying is something that everyone has heard of, and everyone has a fair idea of what it's all about. However, through our work with young people and the adults that support them, it has become clear that we sometimes have different, and often conflicting, definitions for 'bullying'. For us to more effectively tackle bullying, we must develop a common understanding of what it is."
NIABF defines bullying as 'the repeated use of power by one or more persons intentionally to harm, hurt or adversely affect the rights and needs of another or others'.
Lee adds: "We are urging teachers, youth workers, parents and carers to speak to children and young people about this year's Anti-Bullying Week theme, 'What Bullying Means To Me', so that we can improve our understanding of bullying wherever it takes place, either in school, in the playground, in our communities or online."
NIABF has provided schools and youth groups across Northern Ireland with themed posters and a range of learning resources to engage young people and explore their understanding of what bullying is about.
A special awards ceremony will be held in Belfast on Wednesday for the winners of a creative writing and movie competition, which attracted over 2,500 entries.
The competition was organised to provide children and young people with a way of telling their story or conveying their views on how bullying should be tackled.
Anti-bullying messages will be reinforced on posters in train and bus stations across Northern Ireland.
Translink's Ursula Henderson says: "Bullying can mean different things to different people but has the same detrimental impact on child development - creating fear and anxiety, tension and stress.
"It's important we continue to take positive steps to build understanding of what constitutes bullying in order to address it effectively and protect an individual's emotional well-being.
"By supporting NIABF we are also delivering the message that customers should always behave responsibly and with respect for other passengers and staff while they are travelling by bus or train."
- You can listen to Alexis’ song A Storm Is Coming After Me by visiting www.vegasoundstudios.com