“Parents . . . have no idea how hurt and broken we are.” (Bullied, Broken, Redeemed, page 24)
Like many homeschooled high school seniors, Brandon is busy developing as an athlete, a scholar, and an artisan. He also stands out from his peers in one remarkable way.
He found the courage to tell his story—not just as a means of recovering from his personal hurt, but also to help other students who have suffered in similar ways.
Brandon was horribly bullied, though that fact in itself is not so unusual. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that one out of five American students ages 12–18 say they have experienced the threats, humiliation, and verbal and physical abuse that is associated with being targeted by bullies.
But Brandon refuses to remain either a faceless data point or a victim. The teen chronicled his tale of enduring—and finally escaping—the daily taunts and violence of his public school experience in a book that he wrote for a homeschool co-op class. He called it Bullied, Broken, Redeemed.
It’s a disturbing account, but it’s also one that many other young people have admitted they relate to.
“My strategy was to blend, ignore, survive.” (page 30)
It started in the 7th grade, when Brandon moved from his public elementary school into a public middle school in an affluent area of Northern Virginia. He was immediately labeled an outsider, which made him a target for the abuse that quickly escalated as other students scrutinized him for what they considered additional defects.
Describing the experience in his book, Brandon writes: “The first month is all about judging. Every minute of every day, every kid is judging you.”
These perceived infractions could be something as petty as wearing the “wrong kind” of sneakers, to not owning the latest iPhone—to failing to stand up for yourself.
It was worst when there were no adults around . . . like in the locker room.
Brandon recounts in his book that, before and after gym class, he “had to take the hits and not run because that would have made it worse. Three guys ganged up and kicked me so hard I had bruises on my legs for a few weeks.”
Added to Brandon’s increasing stress was the fact that his dyslexia and dyscalculia meant he needed extra help with schoolwork—which he didn’t get. His grades plummeted, and he started to believe the slurs that were constantly hurled at him.
But his lowest point was yet to come: one day, the bullies found his Instagram account and ganged up on him online. Now, he couldn’t even escape their torment at home. He felt trapped and hopeless.
Brandon lost interest in everything.
“I wanted to die.” (page 52)
This phenomenon, too, is not so unusual. Many researchers cite being bullied as a major factor in students deciding to commit self-harm or even suicide—the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10–24.
What made the difference for Brandon is that his mother, Candice, intervened in a way that he didn’t anticipate. After several attempts at getting school officials to protect Brandon and provide adequate special needs services, she became convinced that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t help her son. So she decided to take matters into her own hands.
She started homeschooling him.
Still reeling from the trauma of his previous school experience, Brandon doubted the new situation would work.
“I thought homeschooling was going to be a bunch of kids playing the harp,” he said. “I thought it was going to be terrible. I was wrong.”
“My mom . . . pieced together my reality.” (page 54)
Brandon’s mother became his primary teacher and established a cardinal rule—he simply couldn’t fail and quit (reversing a pattern he’d become conditioned to at the middle school). If Brandon struggled with a lesson, there was no more shaming or fear. Instead, they kept reviewing together in creative, growth-centered approaches, sometimes over several days, until he caught on. And then they celebrated each small success as something to build on! Brandon’s confidence grew right alongside his academic skills and knowledge.
Homeschooling also gave Brandon a new freedom to explore subjects and activities he enjoyed. He discovered that he thrived when mental and physical challenges were paired.
Brandon spent some time learning the art and science of how to do chores and care for animals on a local farm. Then his mother connected him with a man who was developing a television series about wilderness survival, which resulted in expeditions to local parks to learn key skills like how to build a fire and put up a shelter without modern implements.
“I really enjoyed it,” recalls Brandon. “It got me out, active, and into fresh air. You can’t just sit inside.”
He also earned a spot on the roster of a local homeschool football team as a defensive lineman and linebacker, positions he still filled as of fall 2021.
On the field, he says, “I can flip that switch. I can let loose and have fun.”
But the turning point in Brandon’s healing process occurred when his homeschool co-op teacher encouraged him to write about being bullied.
“The words in my head are mostly positive now.” (page 63)
“It was really hard for the first few months,” Brandon reminisces about the writing process during a recent interview. He says he hadn’t talked much about his experiences, and that they had remained suppressed up to that point: “It was very emotionally draining.”
He wrote under a pen name because, at the time, he was concerned about his former tormenters recognizing themselves in his account and retaliating. Nevertheless, Brandon told the truth, recounting events that he, or others like him, had endured.
His story provoked some intense reactions in readers, including shock and disbelief. Brandon says he understands why his book makes people feel the way they do.
“If I didn’t live it, and somebody else told it to me,” he says, “I would have thought it was fake.”
The problem, he explains, is that bullying is irrational. People may harass others out of a twisted sense of amusement or for power. But ultimately, he says, “I don’t know why anyone would logically go out and do that to somebody.”
“I have value, and I’m finding God’s purpose for my life.” (page 65)
Out of Brandon’s trials, a greater good has arisen. He found that many other students relate to his story, which prompted him and his mother to start a ministry.
Bearing the same name as his book, Bullied, Broken, Redeemed is an advocacy organization that helps parents and students understand and deal with bullying. Brandon, his mother, and another colleague provide workshops, seminars, and other resources that focus on preventing abuse and teaching how to recover from it.
Brandon is also developing kits to assist people who are struggling with mental health challenges, such as depression. Through the book and the kits, he shares techniques that help him regulate his own emotions—staying active, physically fit, and engaged in creative pursuits.
Recently, for example, Brandon took up blacksmithing. He says it is deeply satisfying to subject a slab of iron to the heat of a forge and, through the selective force of hammer and anvil, transform it into a useful and resilient tool.
As his mom characterizes it, after watching Brandon and his friends ply their craft, “They sort of bang that pain out. It helps them reprocess things when they rework an old piece of metal into something beautiful.”