Sometimes our struggles define us.
For Ashley Berry, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Summit Ridge Middle School, her battle to overcome bullying was a defining struggle in her life.
“When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I was dealing with a lot of bullying issues,” Berry said. “… I didn’t really know how to cope with being bullied.”
Berry, who was crowned Miss Colorado Junior Teen this month, said she was in a deep depression then and didn’t know how to talk about the abuse or confront it — until she received a package in the mail from pop-music star Taylor Swift.
A family friend had arranged for the gift — a CD, some memorabilia and a personal note that said, “Keep your head up, your heart open and you’ll be blessed.” Berry said it changed her perspective on being bullied.
“I got the package when I was really going through a hard depression, and ever since that day I decided that I want to make a difference,” Berry said. “I don’t want other people to have to feel like this.”
That’s when Berry decided to define herself by what she could overcome and not by the way bullies made her feel.
Through her program Girls Inspiring Real Leadership Skills, Berry has traveled the country to talk about fighting back against bullies. That involved a dramatic transformation for someone who once was so shy that she couldn’t order food in a restaurant without her parents’ help.
“It’s definitely hard to hear their experiences, because I can so often relate it back to mine, and so it’s difficult for me,” Berry said of her audiences. “My personal motto I’ve had for a year and a half now is, ‘Don’t let the bully define you. Instead, let them inspire you to make a difference in the world.’ ”
Last month, Berry spoke before a state House committee in favor of legislation designed to prevent cyber-bullying.
“It was really intimidating at first. But once I got up there, it was really fun and a different experience for me,” Berry said. “I really enjoyed doing it and knowing I was going to be making a difference in the state.”
Rep. Rhonda Fields, sponsor of House Bill 1131, brought Berry back last week for an appearance on the House floor to receive a commendation for her work. Also last week, Berry was named one of 30 Global Teen Leaders by the nonprofit Three Dot Dash and invited to New York City to take part in a summit with other teen leaders.
“She said (when she was younger) that she wanted to take her experiences and help people with them,” said Anna Berry, Ashley’s mom. “You know you’re doing something right as a parent when you see the inspiration she brings.”
Ashley is amazed at the transformation she’s undergone in just a few years.
“A few years ago, I was going through such a deep depression, and I was so upset about it. I wasn’t talking to anyone. And now I’m speaking nationally about it; I’m reaching out to as many people as I possibly can,” Berry said.
“Knowing that I’m able to make them feel better about it, and knowing that I can show them that it won’t always be like that and you can turn it around, is definitely something I really enjoy doing.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier.com. for updates.