Sixteen-year-old Charles Kolin is spearheading the effort to create a formal resolution by Congress to support Unity Day, celebrated each year in late October (this year on Wednesday, October 23) to honor and recognize the annual anti-bullying prevention day formally on a national level.
Kolin singlehandedly set out to contact Senators and Representatives in Congress directly to lobby them to help put this resolution, which he drafted himself, on the books. His Unity Day resolution includes the goal of bringing together youth, parents, educators, businesses and community members across the country to emphasize a message of uniting for kindness, acceptance, inclusion and mutual respect.
Kolin has a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD) that includes having difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language, and impaired visual spatial and social skills. Kolin prefers to think of himself as part of a “neurodiverse” community, rather than having a disability. His NVLD made him different to other students, and this caused him to be bullied from 5th grade to 8th grade. Because he’s experienced bullying firsthand, it’s his mission to help create a world where no one is afraid to share their opinions and where being different is okay.
Kolin spoke with DIVERSEability Magazine about his experiences and goals for the future:
DIVERSEability Magazine (DM): What were your experiences with bullying? How did you cope?
Charles Kolin (CK): My experience with bullying was not physical—it was all mental and emotional bullying. Some people will argue that there is no such thing as mental or emotional bullying, but I disagree.
I had 20 plus kids a day for 3 years tell me to go kill myself; they told me no one cared about me; why come to school I didn’t matter. Hearing those things every day of your life is bullying. The bullying began in 5th grade following my move from New York to Connecticut. The bullying continued until the end of 8th grade. My peers would go out of their way to say cruel and insensitive things to me.
During lunch, I wasn’t allowed to sit anywhere; they would ridicule me both in person, and behind my back. On the rare occasion I was actually invited somewhere, my peers would either never show up or tell me they’d be right back before leaving and never returning only to watch and laugh from a distance. It was disappointing, hurtful and I didn’t understand why I was being treated that way. I am blessed at being a gifted athlete and I have a passion for soccer. This would also be stripped away from me as I was excluded on the field, and as a result, was discouraged from joining the soccer team.
I coped with this issue primarily through the help of my parents and certain school faculty. Although the faculty were empathetic towards my situation, there wasn’t much that they could do. The bullying wasn’t happening in front of their noses, but was hidden from view. Many kids saw and heard it all but they didn’t step in to help for fear that they would be the next one to be bullied.
DM: What led you to become a national voice and advocate? What are your main objectives?
CK: I know what it means to be bullied and to be the outcast and I don’t want anyone to ever feel the way I did. I knew that in order to stop this problem in not only our country, but the whole world, someone needed to step up and stand up for the voiceless. Once I moved to a new school, I was able to gain more confidence and decided to start looking for an organization to get involved in. That’s when I found the PACER center in Minnesota. After talking with Julie Hertzog at PACER, I got the green light to bring Unity Day to my school. Although ending bullying is a big part of what I’m trying to do, it isn’t my entire objective. My dream is for people to come together to celebrate and validate their differences. For example, those that are part of the neurodiverse community look at various things in the world in a different way. My dream is to create a world where people can disagree, be open to new views and ideas, but have civil discourse rather than contempt for one another. In this day and age, the country needs people need to have more respect for one another’s differences. Spread kindness, respect and include those that are different. That can make all the difference in someone’s life.
DM: Tell us more about your efforts to create a formal resolution by Congress to support Unity Day. How has that experience been?
CK: Once I established Unity Day at my high school, Greens Farms Academy, I wanted to go even bigger. That’s when I came up with an idea for a national Unity Day. What started as an idea would soon blow up to be a rewarding and humbling project! I started by emailing as many members of Congress as I could. When I didn’t get a response, I would send and resend the message again. I was relentlessly sending emails and calling offices for 3 months until I finally started getting responses. From there, it was a matter of time before I had a whole schedule full of meetings with 20 different offices in Washington DC. My local representative, Fred Camillo, was even able to help me secure a meeting with Senator Richard Blumenthal from my home state of Connecticut! After giving my pitch for a national Unity Day, all of the offices supported my idea and encouraged me to continue. After the success with my first visit in Washington, I continued to follow up with Senator Richard Blumenthal. He agreed to help me write a resolution to be presented to the Senate, and Congressman Tom Emmer lead the charge in the drafting the resolution for the House of Representatives. The most amazing and humbling part of the whole process was actually being able to edit the resolution. So here I was, sitting in my bedroom editing a resolution for a national Unity Day, when only three years prior I was being told to kill myself and that I didn’t matter. It was one of, if not the, most amazing moments of my life.
DM: What advice do you have for bullying victims and for those with Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities?
CK: What I would tell anyone who is being bullied now is DONT LET IT STOP YOU! Keep speaking out! Keep fighting! Tell everyone in school, adults, anyone until they listen. If we all stand together and unite for tolerance, kindness and respect, the bully will not stand a chance.
DM: We see you’re the lone survivor of triplets. How has that affected your perspective on life?
CK: Being a surviving triplet has played a big role in my life. It has instilled a sense of focus, confidence and self-worth in me. I know that I am here for a reason. I have a purpose in the world. It always shown me that others have a purpose too. It played a large role in me keeping my composure through the tough times. My outlook on life is that everyone is important and everyone is here for a reason. Confidence, however, is a luxury that many victims of bullying do not have. That’s why it’s important to stand with one another rather than against each other.
A way to get involved and show your support for not only victims of bullying, but also for unity would be taking the #UnityChallenge on social media. Go to UnityChallenge.org to take part in the movement. Pick one of the 3 words that signify Unity Day: Tolerance, Kindness and Respect, and then write the word on your hand and take a photo. Then write a small caption on why you chose that word, what it means to you and post it. This small action can positively impact the lives of so many people around the nation and beyond!