It’s hard not to feel jaded after the year we’ve had so, really, it was only a matter of time before a heart-wrenching story that kicked us right in the feels had some controversy attached to it. Over the weekend, the video of Tennessee boy Keaton Jones talking about being bullied at school went viral. His mom, Kimberly Jones, shared the video on Facebook, it was soon all over Twitter and Instagram and celebs felt for this poor kid, reaching out to him with all kinds of support and words of encouragement and fun gifts.
Soon after, a GoFundMe campaign was started by a guy named Joseph Lam, who wrote on the page, “I came across this video on Facebook of Kim Jones and her son Keaton. Keaton is being bullied at school. This video really touched my heart. I decided to do this GoFundMe to help with this child’s future.”
Nearly $60,000 was raised before the page stopped taking donations. Not because it had reached its goal but, rather, because things got dark fast when photos featuring a Confederate flag were discovered on his mother’s Facebook page.
Now, let’s be clear. The racist turn this sweet story took is about Kimberly, not Keaton. And the last thing this child needs is to be bullied on social media by strangers. Kimberly and Keaton were on Good Morning America and CBS This Morning to clear up reports by simply stating, “we’re not racist.”
She explained to CBS, of the pics found, “The only two photos — the only two photos on the entire planet that I am anywhere near a Confederate flag. It was ironic,” adding that there was no racist intent behind the shots. “I’ve said I spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn’t racist.”
As for the pics she and her daughter posted to their social media accounts (which have since been made private)? She told GMA that they were “meant to be ironic and funny and extreme,” adding, “I am genuinely truly sorry. If I could take it back, I would.”
Kimberly then made a plea for people to look beyond their opinions about her and continue to support Keaton. “They want to hate me, I mean, whatever, that’s fine, but still talk to your kids. Talk to your kids because this is an epidemic.”
It must be mentioned, for all the cynics side-eyeing her, that Keaton was indeed bullied. Union County school officials have confirmed that Keaton was the victim of at least one recent bullying incident, while Horace Maynard Middle School officials are planning to hold an anti-bullying assembly.
Keaton told CBS that he had been regularly bullied by five schoolmates but was too afraid of them to tell the teacher. So the video was his idea. “I had enough of it. They had said that someone was going to beat me up in lunch so I texted my mom and I said, ‘What do I do here?'”
Keaton’s mom may, or may not, have ulterior motives for the video but at the heart of this story is a boy who has had to endure so much and will probably continue to do so, sadly. He needs to be protected and to feel safe so, if anything, here’s hoping this can be a teachable moment — for Keaton’s mother, the bullies who attack him with their awful words and actions, and bullies in general.