Non-Violent Approach to Being Bullied: Building Self-Confidence and Self-Respect in Young People

Motivational Speaker Earnest Hart, Jr. Helps Build Character in Young Students

by B. W.  Durham

“My mother was a Jehovah’s Witness. She wanted to raise me to be non-violent. Being in the toughest areas of St. Louis down in the projects, you got tired of people taunting you.”

For personal safety expert and security consultant Earnest Hart, Jr. of St. Louis, growing up was tough. His mother’s wishes that young Earnest could be raised to be non violent didn’t come true – at least not right away.

As a kid in St. Louis housing projects, Hart was often bullied by tough guys until he mastered boxing, judo and jujitsu as a teenager and became a four-time kickboxing champion who toured the world, appeared in Hollywood movies and consulted for top corporations, actors and athletes. In the 1990s he became motivational speaker, personal safety expert and trainer whose messages included learning how to become a more self-confident person and deal with conflict in non-violent ways.

“I have worked with students and young people my entire career,” says Hart, who today is married with two grown children. “I am on a mission to educate people about the prevalence of bullying and violence in America’s schools and on college campuses, and to train students how to recognize dangerous scenarios and avoid putting themselves in compromising situations.”

Bullying incidents in St. Louis and nationwide prompted Hart, who has consulted with actors George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Willem Dafoe, to launch a series of anti-bullying and safety seminars for elementary school students and those in high school or college.

“Kids who are bullied become adults who bully others. Despite attempts to protect students from abuse, bad things can happen,” says Hart.

“One of my approaches is to teach self-reliance, self-respect and how to recognize and react to potentially threatening human behavior that includes bullying, sexual violence and abusive threats in many forms,” says Hart, who earned a black belt in 15 different martial arts.

“An important aspect of my work is to teach young kids how to safely remove themselves from dangerous scenarios when they feel vulnerable or threatened, or if they are unexpectedly harassed.”

Hart’s personal safety programs for schools and colleges focus on developing self confidence, awareness of potential risks and knowing how to avoid harm. He does not “lecture.” His interactive approach uses demonstrations and instructive methods to encourage self respect and personal growth. It is a message that connects with – and resonates -- with students of all ages. When talking with kids it doesn’t hurt that Hart appeared in a number of Hollywood movies, including “Batman & Robin.”

“I educate people about the realities of today’s often violent and abusive society, and help them prepare to respond effectively in threatening encounters,” says Hart. “I find great satisfaction in helping people develop more self-confidence, self reliance and personal safety skills.”

Hart’s anti-bullying and personal safety seminars complement his programs for businesses, corporations, police departments, and global travelers.   He is often asked to conduct private training sessions with families. In addition, he appears at community organizations to spread his anti-bullying message.

“I could move to Hollywood to work if I wanted, but I like St. Louis and, personally, I prefer working with kids who need a mentor, a good role model,” he says.

“In St. Louis there is a lot of black-on-black crime, black kids killing each other. We need for more Afro-American role models who do positive things, and do it because they really want to make a positive difference.

“Many kids see violent death and drugs in their neighborhoods and don’t feel they have a way out. Many black kids are raised in a single-parent household, mostly by their mother who is struggling so the family can eat.

“It’s hard for those kids to believe that they can grow up to be successful when no one is there to teach them or give them guidance. If you want to see black kids start thinking differently about their situation, they need to see positive role models. The same thing applies to lots of kids and teenagers who live in white, middle class suburbs.

Hart explains, “Many kids, black or white, worry about getting bullied or beat up. Many fear any type of confrontational situation with another kid. But if you help kids develop more confidence, a lot of times they can deal with those situations without fighting.

“That’s what good about understanding martial arts, which fundamentally teach personal discipline, self confidence, self esteem and self control. Everything we do in life is rooted in how we feel about ourselves. If we can’t feel good about other people, at least we can feel good about ourselves. Practicing martial arts does that.

“I know that many kids in downtown areas and in white neighborhoods have self-esteem problems because no one is looking out for them; they have nobody to talk to or trust; they don’t have a focus. That can lead to becoming a bully, or becoming a target of bullies, joining a gang or worse.

“In my programs I work with young kids to help them learn how to feel positive about themselves and learn to be the best they can be by developing more self confidence and self respect. That’s where some people mess up. They are afraid to fail. So, they don’t do anything, they just sit idle.

“I have been fortunate to work with kids from every type of background. All of them respect fighting. But I tell them that you can’t settle anything with your fist. I can do that because I was a world champion fighter and they listen – that the big advantage I have. I have seen undisciplined kids become disciplined after training. I have seen teenagers without goals start setting productive goals for themselves. When young people develop self discipline, self confidence, self esteem and self control, it lasts for life.”

Hart was recently engaged to address 100 fifth graders at Premier Charter School in the city of St. Louis on the topic of building self-confidence and personal respect to live a safer personal life and avoid being bullied. He gave two, interactive 45-minute presentations to groups of fifth graders in the school multipurpose room.

Premier Charter School’s 900-plus students come from every zip code in the city and speak 12 different languages. Character education is a fundamental aspect of the school’s academic mission.

“Earnest’s message to our fifth graders was multi-fold,” says Julie Leftridge, the Teacher-Leader at Premier who helped arrange Hart’s appearance. “He focused on building self worth and self esteem, and how you can use your own personal self worth and self esteem to avoid and dissolve bullying situations.

“We know that people who lack self esteem and self worth often get bullied,” says Leftridge, adding, “Bullying is a systematic imbalance of power. Bullies use that imbalance of power in an effort to (control) and throw off another student or person and keep them in a position of inequality.”

“At Premier, we try to help kids understand that every student can leverage on their strengths, self-worth and self esteem to develop their own character and not ‘play on power.’

“Earnest has an informative, interactive style of presentation that engaged our kids -- he got the message across,” asserts Leftridge, calling Ernest’s presentation a “model of good character development.”

“Kids were taken by the message that they have the power to build self confidence to not only help prevent being bullied but to develop personal characteristics to avoid becoming a bully,” she says, adding, “Ernest put a pre-emptive message in place.”

Hart believes that “prevention is 90 percent of self-preservation in today’s world.” Developing self awareness, self confidence and situational assessment skills are keys to making decisions that can help keep kids safe from different types of potentially threatening situations, whether at school or on the street.

Skills such as understanding how to carry oneself in a positive manner; reading body language in other people; identifying risks and dangers; non-verbal and verbal behavior skills; de-escalation methods; controlling fear; and knowing how to escape a potentially bad situation are all part of Hart’s message to the world.

“Everyone should have practical knowledge about how to avoid conflict and stay safe,” Hart says. “It starts with developing more self respect and self confidence, and feeling good about who you are.”


Earnest Hart, Jr.

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