TUPELO – There are 309 students at Shannon Elementary, and in a classroom full of young girls, one-quarter of the room raised their hands when asked if they had ever been bullied in person or on social media.

The Wear It Well organization helped the new nonprofit Youth on the Rise launch the “Love the Skin You’re in” campaign to teach girls the importance of empowerment and self-love, starting with Shannon Elementary school fourth- and fifth-graders on Friday afternoon.

“In today’s world, it’s so easy for us to be rude to people instead of being kind, saying nice words. Let’s be kind, because you never know what the person next to you is going through,” Wear It Well Founder Katina Holland said.

Chante Thornton has taught as a substitute teacher in the Lee County area for three years and started Youth on the Rise after seeing a proliferation of bullying at the schools she taught, as well as the consequences of the behavior.

Thornton said bullying often starts young – in children as young as 8 years old – and stressed the importance of addressing it earlier, saying early preventative measures help mitigate the bullying that could potentially later lead to catastrophic events, such as school violence.

“In 2003, I wanted to do this in the heart of Detroit, but then I moved back home. They had it here, and I wanted to help the kids. I knew something had to be done. I feel like I would let them down if we don’t do something to help and empower them,” Thornton said.

Wear It Well is a nonprofit organization that provides beauty services to those battling illness or other traumatic life experiences.

Holland gave five talks to girls in schools in Memphis earlier this year. This is her first one in Mississippi.

She started doing the talks because her 14-year-old niece committed suicide due to bullying.

“We want to enhance the mind, body and soul of men, women and children,” Holland said.

The “Girl Code” talk touched on topics like confidence, bullying and cyberbullying, as well as suicide prevention.

At the end of the talk, Holland held up a mirror to each of the young girls and said, “You are beautiful.”

Youth on the Rise will have its second event at Ashland Middle School auditorium on March 23.

cristina.carreon@journalinc.com Twitter: @Ccarreon90

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