While fighting back tears, young Keaton Jones couldn’t stop asking one question: Why?
“Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?” he asks his mother while in the passenger seat of a parked car. “Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them? It’s not okay.”
Even though Keaton’s mother, recording the conversation, never appears in the video, the pain in her voice is evident as she asks her son about what he suffers at school at the hands of bullies.
“They make fun of my nose. They call me ugly. They say I have no friends,” Keaton says, tearing up. At lunch, the indignities would turn physical. The bullies “put milk on me and put ham down my clothes, throw bread on me.”
It wasn’t just him, but other kids, too.
“How’s that make you feel?” his mother asks.
Keaton begins shaking his head.
“I don’t like that they do it to me. And I, for sure, don’t like that they do it to other people, cause it’s not okay!” he says. “People that are different don’t need to be criticized about it. It’s not their fault.”
At this point, tears are rolling down Keaton’s cheeks, and he is heaving with sobs. Nevertheless, he manages to offer advice to others who may be getting bullied, too.
“But if you are made fun of, just don’t let it bother you. Just stay strong, I guess,” Keaton says, gulping. “It’s hard. But … it’ll probably get better one day.”
This is Keaton Jones, he lives in Knoxville and he has a little something to say about bullying.pic.twitter.com/coyQxFp33V
— Everything TN (@Everything_TN) December 9, 2017
It’s unclear whether Keaton believes his own last reassurance. After those words, he turns away from the camera, and the video ends there.
Keaton’s mother, Kimberly Jones, uploaded the video to Facebook on Friday, noting that she was picking up her son early from school again because was too afraid to go to lunch. Recording the video was Keaton’s idea, she said.
“My kids are by no stretch perfect, & at home, he’s as all boy as they come, but by all accounts he’s good at school,” Jones wrote. “Talk to your kids. … We all know how it feels to want to belong, but only a select few know how it really feels not to belong anywhere.”
At least a couple of Jones’s friends shared the post.
“This is the sweetest boy ever! No reason people should treat him this way!!!” one wrote. “Wish I had a way to send it to the news!!!”
Soon, though, the video took on a life of its own. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people shared Jones’s post on Facebook, leading to more than 15 million views in the span of two days.
At some point, the video migrated to Twitter, where it was shared and watched by hundreds of thousands more — including scores of athletes, celebrities and public figures, who said Keaton’s raw distress struck a nerve with them.
College and professional athletes in Tennessee, where Keaton lives, were among the first to reach out.
— Delanie walker (@delaniewalker82) December 9, 2017
In his own recorded video to Keaton, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker read a poem by Buddha — “Our life is shaped by our mind. We become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like its shadow. It never leaves.” — and offered Keaton and his family four tickets to watch the Titans play the Jacksonville Jaguars on New Year’s Eve.
“Always remember that you can be whoever you want to be,” Walker said. “Hopefully this video and all the tweets that are being put out there make awareness to stop bullying.”
We going to the middle school next Tuesday show young Man some love we will also TWITTER LIVE some of it so everyone can show there love and support #vols #StopBullying @cboystunna3 @BroadwayJay2 @JKShuttlesworth @smithtrey98
— Tyler Byrd (@D1fuzzymuffin17) December 9, 2017
Tyler Byrd, a wide receiver for the University of Tennessee football team, responded to a call by former NFL player Donté Stallworth to rally support for Keaton, saying several volunteer team members planned to visit the boy at school next week.
“Bet I am there,” Byrd tweeted.
On Sunday, Byrd’s teammate, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, posted a picture of him hanging out with his “new best bud” Keaton.
So I got the chance to spend the day with my new best bud Keaton. It was unbelievable to get to know him and realize that we have a lot in common. This dude is very special and has changed my life forever. Now I have the little brother I always wanted! God bless you my man pic.twitter.com/vMHVtnf2rC
— Jarrett Guarantano✞ (@BroadwayJay2) December 11, 2017
Millie Bobby Brown, the child actor who plays Eleven in Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” tweeted the hashtag #StandWithKeaton.
Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White said he wanted to bring Keaton to Las Vegas to hang out at UFC headquarters.
@Lakyn_Jones Hello, Keaton (via your sister)! You may have heard of my parents, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (#MLK) and #CorettaScottKing. I try to honor them and their legacies. I’m so sorry about the pain you’re experiencing because of bullying. You matter. I love you.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) December 9, 2017
On Sunday, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo both invited the boy and his family to be their guests at the premiere of “Avengers: Infinity War.”
“Forget those ignorant kids,” Ruffalo tweeted. “One day, very soon, they are going to feel pretty stupid for this.”
The video also made the rounds in the political sphere, prompting words of encouragement from Tennessee’s senators.
Keaton, I know Tennesseans and people across our country join me in saying thank you for your courage. Bullying isn’t acceptable, especially in our schools. We’re all with you! #StandWithKeaton
— Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) December 11, 2017
Thank you #KeatonJones for sharing your story and bringing awareness to the serious problem of bullying in our schools. There is no place for that, and as Tennesseans, we must work together to prevent bullying and harassment of all our students.
— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@SenAlexander) December 10, 2017
Although many people online said Keaton attended either elementary or middle school in Tennessee, The Washington Post could not confirm Keaton’s age or school, and his family members did not respond to interview requests Sunday morning. Publicly, Keaton’s mother and sister said they have been overwhelmed by offers of assistance since the video went viral and have not been able to individually respond to the thousands of messages they’ve received.
Seeing my brother’s face all over the internet and people giving him support is the most amazing feeling in the world ❤️
— Lakyn (@Lakyn_Jones) December 9, 2017
“Friends, overwhelmed is the understatement of the world right now,” Jones wrote on Facebook on Saturday afternoon. “I’m humbled by the voice my boy has been given, but he’s still just a little boy, & he’s a little boy who desperately wants acceptance, that I have to try to find a way to navigate him through the difference in true acceptance & attention. I know God has His hand in this, & I trust that the right things will happen in the right time.”