Ola Middle 7th grader, salon, Paul Mitchell aid those bullied

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

What looks to be a growing grassroots movement to fight the influence of school bullies began last school year with a simple remark.

“I’d overheard one of my friends talk about her cousin,” said Ola Middle School 7th grader Sabri Weeks. “She’d been getting bullied and said she didn’t want to live anymore. So I came home and told my mom, ‘I don’t anyone to live in fear like this.’ So I asked her if we could do something about it.”

Ola Middle School 7th grader Sabri Weeks, front row in white t-shirt, and her mother Jennifer Weeks, just behind her, are surrounded by volunteer stylists and cosmetologists who gave complimentary self-esteem-boosting hair and makeup makeovers to Sabri and her teen friends attending a meeting Saturday night of an anti-bullying-themed group called L1A, for Love 1 Another. Special photo

The two tossed around ideas. Because teens love T-shirts, Sabri designed a shirt online that says, “It’s OK to be different,” on the front and on the back, “Love 1 Another,” a sentiment that became the name of the teen’s movement. Sabri’s mother, stylist and cosmetologist Jennifer Weeks, ordered a few. “Since then,” Sabri said, “people (at school) asked me, ‘When do you get more T-shirts,’ so we ordered more and ‘L1A’ grew from there.”

Sabri said she began asking if she could organize a club at Ola Middle to talk about how to counter bullying, and was told to write a letter to her guidance counselor, which she did. Because the school had an existing-but-dormant club called POP, for Power Over Prejudice, Sabri and her friends began meeting under that name.

“We had three meetings last year, one a month” Sabri said. “We’ve had a few more this year. We come up with cool things that we can do to get the word around. One girl came up with, ‘Silence does bullies a favor, so speak up,’ which we pinned to our shirts. I came up with writing positive messages on sticky notes on lockers, like somebody said, ‘Stand like a pineapple and wear your crown.’”

From expert speakers the girls learned in L1A, she said, the three steps for responding to bullying: First, be assertive and ask the offender to stop. If that fails, secondly, ask an adult to help. If both fail, go to the staff of the school and ask if the offended can change class schedules to avoid the bully.

Saturday night the girls staged their biggest event yet at the salon that Sabri’s mom works at, Rhapsody Hair Salon at 2110 Jodeco Rd. in McDonough.

A few months ago, when Jennifer Weeks told Jody White, sales consultant for hair care products distributor Cosmo Prof, about the club her daughter had started, he told her about an initiative begun by Paul Mitchell hair products. White told her his own daughter had experienced bullying, saying, “I’ve lived through this hell.”

Michaelina DeJoria, vice chairman and the daughter of John Paul Mitchell Systems’ co-founder John Paul DeJoria, in August launched Neon, a budget line of color-safe, sugar-infused hair products targeted at younger girls and marketed alongside strong anti-bullying messages.

“50-something percent of schoolchildren say they are afraid of bullying,” said Paul Mitchell business development coordinator LaDonna Dryer. “but 100 percent of parents are afraid of their kids getting bullied. So we thought it was important to bring awareness to it.”

White helped Weeks organize a meeting in the salon for the L1A club, which Sabri led Saturday night with words of encouragement. Almost 50 teens listened as two expert speakers gave practical advice, and then each girl in attendance was given a complimentary hair and makeup makeover to help boost self-esteem, powered by volunteer stylists with products donated by Paul Mitchell.

Sabri and Jennifer Weeks hope the L1A club spreads to other schools. Questions can be left on the club’s Facebook page at facebook.com/L1A-15719987 13116127, an Instagram message @gottablast099, or call Jennifer Weeks at 770-912-3945.

Sabri said the friend who’d made the desperate suicidal remark last year soon maneuvered out of the bullying situation, and the good seeds planted by L1A have helped many others.

“It makes me feel good, not because I’m getting noticed but because we’re getting noticed,” Sabri said with a thrill in her voice. “It’s about being confident in yourself. Don’t change for other people, just be you. If others don’t like what you do or how you (present yourself), discontinue talking. You don’t need to hide behind a mask.

“We don’t have to just take bullying. People can take this club and do something with it. It all starts with talking with others, just walk up and say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ Now we know what to do, and they can, too.”