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.”
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.
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.”
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.
On Sunday, Byrd’s teammate, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, posted a picture of him hanging out with his “new best bud” Keaton.
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.
On Instagram, Snoop Dogg said Keaton had a “friend for life” in him (“hit me on dm so we can chop it up”). The rapper Cardi B came to Keaton’s defense with some colorful language.
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.
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.
“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.”