Spreading Kindness: Morgan's Journey to Building a Mental Health Movement
In response to a traumatic experience with bullying when she was young, Morgan stepped up to launch the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation based in Kentucky to spread kindness and awareness around mental health. For the past nine years and with the support of her parents, Morgan has challenged norms around bullying while embedded kindness into the fabric of her community.
Her journey started when she was eight years old. Morgan experienced severe bullying during elementary school and was diagnosed as clinically depressed by her doctor. As a third grader, Morgan remembers feeling confused about why she was being recommended to leave her school and wondered if other kids experienced what she was battling every day.
Her parents gave Morgan the choice of what she could do next: she could ignore the problem, she could blame others, or she could be a part of the solution. Later that week, Morgan began researching bullying and discovered the magnitude of the problem along with a simple solution - kindness.
Morgan remembers the first time she felt her power to create change when she realized she “had a voice, because I was shy, I was afraid, I didn’t want to do anything about it. But the moment that I sat down and said, hey, this isn’t right, I’m not going to stand for it, I am going to make a difference. And I may have not really done anything yet, but just the actual action of me thinking, wow, I am going to do something.”
That fierce confidence led Morgan to start the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation, a Kentucky-based organization that is spreading kindness and mental health awareness. Over the years, Morgan venture has evolved to shift “ the narrative about bullying by showing kids that they have a voice, and they can use it for good, and they can stick up for each other.” She advocates for being an upstander rather than a bystander, encouraging young people to speak up and step up when they see something that is not right.
Morgan redefined norms around bullying when she led a statewide campaign to define bullying under state law for public schools. At the age of 12, she testified to state lawmakers and shared her story to broadcast the urgency and importance of this issue. She also helped create a Governor's task force focused on bullying. This advocacy work demonstrates the importance of listening to young voices, especially on matters that affect the everyday lives of young people like bullying and mental health.
To amplify her message publically and collectively, her team hosts an annual Kindness Color Walk. Morgan invites everyone in her community, such as students, teachers, parents, firefighters, mayors, and school board leaders, to come together and walk in support of kindness. While shining a light on the power of kindness, Morgan has witnessed bullying become less of a taboo in her state. Now, the conversation in her school and community is about mental health.
Morgan’s parents are her biggest supporters as a young changemaker. When she was starting out, they helped connect her with their networks while encouraging her to be the one to make the first ask. Morgan says, “kids now have a voice to stand up, and parents need to be behind them.”
To her peers, Morgan shares, “the future is in our hands right now, our generation is really the ones that are going to be able to make the differences that we’re going to see in our lifetime.” Morgan candidly recognizes that “there are going to be hardships. There is going to be criticism, but on the other side there are other youth that are doing the same things as [you], wanting the same great things to happen.” By pushing through the negativity, Morgan has met hundreds of other young people over the years who are working together to multiply their collective impact for the good of all.
Thinking about today’s most pressing challenges, Morgan believes “the most urgent problem is fear. Fear holds us back from everything. It causes jealousy, it causes injustice. It causes divides because we’re afraid to talk to each other.” To combat fear, Morgan says, “the skills that we need are compassion, we need empathy. We need courage to even be able to put our ideals aside and listen to something that we may disagree with, because I think that is the most important thing.” And for Morgan, listening to others with empathy begins with kindness.