As a youth, Charles Ray Knowles battled a lot of household allergies and one affected the airway in his throat. A surgical procedure created an opening through the neck into the windpipe and a tube was placed through the opening that provided an airway.
The tracheostomy saved his life, but it also put him in a position to get picked on because he developed a speech impediment.
“As soon as I started reading, people would make fun of me,” he said about reading aloud in school and church.
Now, through a series of seminars, Knowles is working to prevent the ordeals of bullying from happening to anyone else. Hosted by Fear Systems Martial Arts, one of the purposes is to instill “unshakable confidence” in participants in youths 5 to 18 years old. The mobile anti-bullying seminar also teaches participants how to avoid conflict and defend themselves if necessary.
“I lived it,” he said. “That’s why the passion is there.”
Knowles was the brunt of bullying, but martial arts helped him through the trauma and gave him confidence. Knowles has been practicing since the age of 9.
He went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University. He played a foot soldier in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” and worked with law enforcement. But his main passion is helping youths in the same situation he was in years ago.
Bullying was a problem in his younger days and after doing some research, he believes it’s worse now.
“The more research I did in the bullying area, the scarier it got,” Knowles said. “The numbers were just unreal.”
He called bullying a “faceless enemy.”
“It’s everywhere,” he stressed.
According to stats, 33 percent of students admit to bullying and North Carolina is ranked fourth in the nation and ninth in physical altercations as a result of bullying. Knowles is working to decrease that amount through his program. A lot of it deals with the mental and cyberbullying aspect of the problem.
“We use the physical side to deal with confidence because that’s the last thing we want to happen,” he said. “But if it does happen, we want them to get home safely.”
When Knowles was younger, there were times when he could run home and escape, but with cyberbullying it can turn into a 24/7 problem. It’s a big part of the overall issue.
“They can’t outrun it,” he said about social media. “Even when they’re not paying attention to it, it’s still going on.”
Knowles added that some students are in the middle when it comes to bullying incidents. He believes they can watch or do something about it.
“If they would jump in and help the person being bullied,” Knowles said. “If they don’t, it can go on for days and days and it grow.”
After offering the program, a lot of organizations were open to the anti-bullying concept. The seminar recently completed a pilot with Girl Scouts in Sampson County. One of activities included a group experience where participants pretended to be bullies and attacked one person.
“A lot of times, it’s easier for a person to jump on the bully’s side and help them than it is to stop it,” he said.
He would like to expand the seminar to other areas in the Southeast in an effort to stop other bullying problems. Recent stats from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and the National Youth Violence Prevention Center show that more than 30 percent of high school students in North Carolina say they can’t control anger issues. If challenged, 41 percent said they will fight back and 21 percent believe avoiding fights is a sign of weakness.
Knowles also acknowledged that 1 in 3 high school students were in a fight within the last year.
“You can see the stage being set up for the violence,” he said.
Through the classes that’s something he wants to stop throughout the Southeast region. Knowles said he likes to help people going through bullying problems and stop youths from becoming bullies in the process. He referred to it as “tug of war.”
“We’re changing both sides of this scenario at one time,” Knowles said.
For more information about the seminar or hosting opportunities, contact Knowles at 910-249-9899 or 910-990-1405.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.