Tennessee middle-schooler Keaton Jones and his mother Kimberly Jones are speaking out about the student’s emotional anti-bullying video — and the backlash that followed after many accused Kimberly of being racist.
Keaton, of Knoxville, captivated the Internet after a video uploaded by his mother showed the boy in tears as he lamented the bullying he’s endured at school. Keaton told CBS News that recording the tearful footage was all his idea.
“I had enough of it. They had said that someone was going to beat me up in lunch so I texted my mom and I said, ‘What do I do here?’ ” Keaton, 11, told CBS News. In the video, Keaton revealed that the bullies, “make fun of my nose. They call me ugly. They say I have no friends.”
However, as celebrities and social media users rallied behind Keaton, many criticized Kimberly for Facebook posts that appeared to show the family posing with Confederate flags.
“The only two photos — the only two photos on my entire planet that I am anywhere near a Confederate flag. It was ironic,” Kimberly said of the photos, adding that their was no racist intent behind the shots. “I’ve said I spent most of my life being bullied and judged because I wasn’t racist.”
She echoed her statements to ABC News, saying that those close to her know she is not racist.
“I feel like anybody who wants to take the time to ask anybody who I am or even troll through some other pictures, I mean I feel like we’re not racist,” she said. She added: “It was meant to be ironic and funny … I am genuinely truly sorry. If I could take it back, I would.”
Kimberly’s daughter, Lakyn, defended her mother in a now-deleted Twitter post, writing, “To those who think my mother is a racist, she is not. She is a southern woman who loves where she’s from. She believes in equality and doesn’t want any harm done to ANYONE. This is about bullying and my brother. Not her. Please leave it alone.”
Kimberly also disputed claims that she used Keaton’s story for financial gain, telling ABC that she approved one GoFundMe campaign to benefit Keaton and calling the others fakes.
Keaton told CBS that he has been regularly bullied by five middle-schoolers and was too afraid of them to tell a teacher.
“He became more and more agitated and didn’t want to go back to school,” Kimberly told the site.
As a result of the video, Horace Maynard Middle School officials vowed to hold an anti-bullying assembly, according to CBS. And Keaton said he is glad he spoke out in the video.
“I made the video to raise awareness for bullying, not for fame or fortune, it was not at all for that. It was to raise awareness to bullying,” he told ABC. “[It’s] a serious thing that goes on in our society. People criticize other people for the way they look and act; it’s not their fault.”