While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?
“Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?” he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. “Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them? It’s not OK.”
Even though Keaton’s mother, recording the conversation, never appears in the video, the pain in her voice is evident as she asks her son about what he suffers at school at the hands of bullies.
“They make fun of my nose. They call me ugly. They say I have no friends,” Keaton says, tearing up. At lunch, the indignities would turn physical. The bullies “put milk on me and put ham down my clothes, throw bread on me.”
It wasn’t just him, but other kids, too.
“How’s that make you feel?” his mother asks.
Keaton begins shaking his head.
“I don’t like that they do it to me. And I, for sure, don’t like that they do it to other people, cause it’s not OK!” he says. “People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it. It’s not their fault.”
At this point, tears are rolling down Keaton’s cheeks and he is heaving with sobs. Nevertheless, he manages to offer advice to others who may be getting bullied, too.
“But if you are made fun of, just don’t let it bother you. Just stay strong, I guess,” Keaton says, gulping. “It’s hard. But … it’ll probably get better one day.”
It’s unclear whether Keaton believes his own last reassurance. After those words, he turns away from the camera, and the video ends there.
Keaton’s mother, Kimberly Jones, uploaded the video to Facebook on Friday, noting that she was picking up her son early from school again because he had been too afraid to go to lunch. Recording the video had been Keaton’s idea, she said.
“My kids are by no stretch perfect, & at home, he’s as all boy as they come, but by all accounts, he’s good at school,” Jones wrote. “Talk to your kids. … We all know how it feels to want to belong, but only a select few know how it really feels not to belong anywhere.”
At least a couple of Jones’ friends shared the post.
“This is the sweetest boy ever! No reason people should treat him this way!!!” one wrote. “Wish I had a way to send it to the news!!!”
Soon, though, the video took on a life of its own. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people shared Jones’ post on Facebook, leading to more than 15 million views in the span of two days.
At some point, the video migrated to Twitter, where it was shared and watched by hundreds of thousands more – including scores of athletes, celebrities and public figures, who said Keaton’s raw distress had struck a nerve with them.
Millie Bobby Brown, the child actor who plays Eleven in Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” tweeted the hashtag #StandWithKeaton. Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White said he wanted to bring Keaton to Las Vegas to hang out at UFC headquarters.
On Instagram, Snoop Dogg said Keaton had a “friend for life” in him (“hit me on dm so we can chop it up”). The rapper Cardi B came to Keaton’s defense with some colourful language.
In his own recorded video to Keaton, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker read a poem by Buddha – “Our life is shaped by our mind. We become what we think. Joy follows impure thought like its shadow. It never leaves.” – and offered Keaton and his family four tickets to watch the Titans play the Jacksonville Jaguars on New Year’s Eve.
“Always remember that you can be whoever you want to be,” Walker said. “Hopefully this video and all the tweets that are being put out there make awareness to stop bullying.”
Tyler Byrd, a wide receiver for the University of Tennessee football team, responded to a call by former NFL player Donté Stallworth to rally support for Keaton, saying several Volunteer team members planned to visit the boy at school next week.
“Bet I am there,” Byrd tweeted.
Although many people online said Keaton attended either elementary or middle school in Tennessee, The Washington Post could not confirm Keaton’s age or school, and his family members did not respond to interview requests Sunday morning. Publicly, Keaton’s mother and sister said they have been overwhelmed by offers of assistance since the video went viral and have not been able to individually respond to the thousands of messages they’ve received.
“Friends, overwhelmed is the understatement of the world right now,” Kimberly Jones wrote on Facebook on Saturday afternoon. “I’m humbled by the voice my boy has been given, but he’s still just a little boy, & he’s a little boy who desperately wants acceptance, that I have to try to find a way to navigate him through the difference in true acceptance & attention. I know God has His hand in this, & I trust that the right things will happen in the right time.”
Love and support pours in for Keaton:
@Lakyn_Jones I live in Jerusalem, Israel and will pray for #KeatonJones and put his name in the Western Wall for God to give him strength. When I was his age i was bullied in school and knows how he feels, #IStandWithKeaton
— David Weissman (@davidmweissman) December 10, 2017
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) December 11, 2017
One kid, Keaton Jones, has done more to stop bullying in the last 24 hours than all the professionals who have tried to do the same for years!
— Babs (@TidePride8) December 10, 2017
@Lakyn_Jones will you pass this to Keaton Hey #keatonjones – I’m not good at many things but I’m decent with bullies. If you ever need a side kick let me know. I’ll be there. pic.twitter.com/whLVLucMUZ
— Tim Kennedy (@TimKennedyMMA) December 11, 2017
— Ruby Riott (@RubyRiotWWE) December 10, 2017
Anyone who has ever been bullied please watch and share this. If nothing else I want to personally help Keaton Jones from having to go thru this again. I went thru a lot of this myself as a kid and it really sucks! Ur not alone. https://t.co/dBHP2Tka6t
— Gabriel Iglesias (@fluffyguy) December 10, 2017
— Leigh Anne Tuohy (@LeighAnneTuohy) December 10, 2017
Keaton, I stand with you against bullying!
I really admire your courage, and don’t let them define who you are! 🤟🏽 pic.twitter.com/IXwe6wfVgE
— Nyle DiMarco (@NyleDiMarco) December 10, 2017