I grew up in Wyoming. Mic drop.
Seriously, tho, I did. I always felt different. I was bullied to no-end in middle school (they call it junior high there.) I finally got into the International Baccalaureate program only because it was at a different high school than my bully. She got into it as well. Something incredible happened, though. These people at this new high school across town didn’t have one ounce of time for her shit, and they shot her down the moment she tried her bully tactics against me with them.
What was the difference? Well, picture Wyoming, if you can. We have 600K in the WHOLE STATE. I grew up in the second largest city of 50K people. My only saving grace is that my mother was not from Wyoming and made a pact with my dad that she would be traveling with me whenever I wasn’t in school, and that our house was literally right at the entrance to the largest missile base in the country. My friends changed out every three years, as their parents were transferred to different Air Force bases. They were from exotic places like California, New Jersey, Florida. I learned about all of these places I someday wanted to live, and my non-Wyoming mother made sure Dad kept her pact. I visited every state (except Oregon to this day, surprisingly) and multiple continents by the time I graduated from high school and escaped to Miami, FL for college.
Anyways-back to high school. Elementary school was cool because that’s where I met the people from around the country, but my junior high was located in a wealthy community and was terrifying. I mean, this girl took me to the counselor because she complained that I “smiled too much” and it was “insulting” to her. Like— WTF?! She also voted me off of our lunch table, Survivor-style. This is a true story.
So we get to this new high school and suddenly I am saved. I make friends. She tries for FOUR YEARS (I swear, she was dedicated to the very end) to drag my name through the dirt, but not one single person at this high school wanted anything to do with her bullying tactics. Unlike the daughters and sons of the wealthiest families of our town in the middle of nowhere that I went to junior high with, my high school friends stood by me with integrity, grace, kindness.
So back to the original question— the difference?! This high school that housed the I.B. program was on the “other” side of town, which I now believe to be the BEST side of town. Idk, maybe it had to do with the fact that the first person to defend me was from a Mexican family, the second one to defend me was first-generation from Peru. We grew our friend tribe with the class nerd (who, ironically, aged to be the hottest of all of the guys in high school…just sayin’), my Sunday school friend who was half-Japanese, my Jewish Physics tutor, my rural farm-girl best friend (she literally worked her family’s farm until she moved away from college), my Mormon baking buddy (he makes the best homemade cherry pies), my gay comedian friend (who didn’t come out until college in Ohio), my bi-racial basketball star friend…Get the picture?
Without even realizing it, I surrounded myself with the misfits and minorities of a Wyoming high school, me 100% one of them. We protected each other, cared for each other, hosted movie nights once a month where we invited more and more people to join our unusual tribe. And 14 years later, we ALL are in very successful positions in our careers and we ALL still stay in touch and see whoever is in the area when we are back in Wyoming.
Now, I am a pale Christian blue/green-eyed blonde, skinny and tall, but I still didn’t fit in. Because my heart was different. My soul was built of something different than one cloth.
And that experience caused me to attend college at the University of Miami and move to NYC just days after graduating from college. That experience has kept diverse marketing top of mind in my role as a social and digital marketing expert. It drove me to completely overhaul over three national companies by changing their marketing to a diverse marketing plan that reflected all races, all family types.
This post is not to say >> I AM HERE AND PLEASE PAT ME ON THE BACK FOR THE WORK I’VE DONE. THANK YOU. No. This post is about the fact that I was bullied until I was a meek, tiny little thing with an autoimmune disorder in junior high…but rather about the two people who had the heart to look at a stranger in their high school and invite them into their world and take care of her (they still do!!) This is about minorities in a very conservative, isolated prairie town looking at a tall, skinny, blonde, pale, blue/green-eyed girl and knowing that she needed help ASAP or she was not going to survive this experience. This is about two minorities taking a chance on someone who then went on to use their inspiration and gold hearts to change over three corporations reaching consumers around the world.
They were willing to do ALL OF THAT when a skinny, wannabe blonde-highlighted, brown-eyed, white girl was using every single tool in her chest to try to kill me, bury me.
So, do I understand what this moment in history is about?! HELL, YES. Am I thankful for my best friends, who span multiple ethnicities? HELL, YES. Are they thankful for me?! Ha. Idk. I mainly give them reasons to laugh, and I am okay with that.
When I think of that Mexican and that Peruvian picking up the pieces of my life and fighting off my bully like ravage wolves, OMG. Do I want them to have an INFLUENTIAL voice in this world?! HELL, YES. The world needs more of them. The world needs to distribute more megaphones to those fighting right now for their rights. The world needs more understanding, more melting pots, more tribes like the one we eventually created of one Mexican, one Peruvian, one half-Japanese, one half-Dutch (me, hehe), one African American, one bi-racial, one gay… in Wyoming, of all places. The world needs more women-correctional officers, engineers, social + digital media influencers, Miami Heat players, horticulturists. Yes, that is what we all became. Two of us became engineers; two of us are world-renowned social media influencers.
We did not let a small prairie town define who we are. We rose above those who tried to mute our creativity, our differences, and made meaningful moments out of our lives. We are still making meaningful moments.
And, OMG, peeps, if a small tribe of misfits in Wyoming could find a way to vibe and become friends, despite their differences…WE CAN GET THROUGH THIS MOMENT IN HISTORY. If teenagers from completely different cultures than one another could find something greater than their differences to fight for, we can too.
So please, fight. Please, create your multi-ethnicity tribes. Find the similarities, celebrate the differences.
It’s the only way I survived high school, and I strongly believe that this is the only way we will survive this moment in history.
PS- The photo that accompanies this blog is an actual photo of Beth (the farm-girl,) me, Izaak (the Mexican,) and Kori (the Peruvian) just a few weeks before I left for college in Miami.
-Marji J. Sherman