Bullying is a longstanding problem both in schools and out, but one Wichita musician says that she had heard enough about the issue from young people that she decided to do something to change the problem.
A few years ago Jenny Wood spent some time on the road as a member of Gooding, a band formed on Wichita’s north side two decades ago. The group was spending time traveling to high schools and talking to students about financial literacy. Wood says that after shows, she got to know some of the students she encountered and started noticing some common themes among them.
“The way that they would talk to me about the things that they wanted to do,” she says. “And the things they wanted to be and all the reasons that they couldn’t. Having people around them who made them feel like they couldn’t do what they wanted to do. Even at home [they had] family members that were bullying them, just anyone around them. Not having a good support system.”
Wood says that some of what struck her about all the talk of bullying was that it seemed familiar. She says that she experienced bullying firsthand in her youth.
“Early in high school, I was called weird. I just believed that. Then I started to write and started to sing, and I took a lot of that and put that into something,” she says. “I feel like I took that and put that into something that was weird. I’m definitely weird, but when I’m performing and writing songs and all of that, the art, it’s manifested itself into something [else].”
But, Wood says, bullying is not a phenomenon that is reserved for high school. She says that while on the road with Gooding, she often encountered people outside the band who had difficulty dealing with a woman musician.
“Those guys were so good to me, and I’m very grateful that I had that job while I did,” she says. “But a lot of the men that I would encounter on the road with them, especially sound men, unfortunately, I would be treated differently. Noticeably differently. Even the guys would notice it. I know what that feels like. Through that experience, I’ve noticed that I’m playing louder, I’m singing louder, I’m determined to play electric. I’m being as loud as I can because I don’t know how to confront those people or bullies as an adult except for when I’m on stage, and I can be louder than they would make me feel—small and unimportant and weak and stupid, worthless. I’ve taken all of that to be louder and more of a passionate performer.”
Having experienced these frustrations in school, and in her professional life, Wood began writing the song “Don’t Let Them In Get In Your Head.” As she began adding the song to her live shows, she discovered that the song sounded best when the audience would sing along with her. From there, she hatched the idea to make a video to accompany the song--but not just any video. She wanted to make one that would bring attention to the issue of bullying.
“My friend is a teacher at Valley Center Middle School, and I pitched her the idea. Aaron Wirtz and I went in to present to the principal and the teachers there,” she says. “They loved it, and they said, ‘We want the whole school to be involved.' The next thing I know there’s 430 kids. I’m there singing the song by myself, and there’s a drone and Aaron’s filming it. The kids were so wonderful and beautiful.
"I did a little speech before talking about my experience or what I’ve seen and about the song. I was afraid, I was worried. ‘What if there’s some bad kids that are gonna make fun of me?’ I was really worried that they were going to make fun of me. But you could hear a pin drop in the whole gym. I said, ‘OK, guys. Here we go. Everybody sing it together.’ And all the kids [sang]. My heart just [broke]. There wasn’t a single kid where there was an issue.”
Jenny Wood performs at Barleycorn’s on Friday evening.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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