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Keaton Jones, the Tennessee boy whose tearful reaction to bullying was captured on video by his mom, is getting waves of celebrity support after the clips went viral under the hashtag #StandWithKeaton.
After shooting into the public eye, however, the family is also dealing with social-media backlash. More on that later.
“Just out of curiosity, why do they bully? What’s the point of it?” the Knoxville middle-school student asks his mother, who reportedly was picking him up from school early because he was too afraid to go to lunch. “Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them? It’s not OK.”
Lakyn Keaton, his sister, helped spread the video Friday, tweeting, “Y’all take a minute to watch this video and let it teach you something.”
Though she included a link to a Facebook video posted by her mom, Kimberly Keaton, it appears it has been taken down or at least made private to some degree, possibly in response to criticism of an eyebrow-raising post she put up in August that included the family with Confederate flag.
More than a minute of the video can, however, be seen all over the place on social media and elsewhere online.
“They make fun of my nose. They call me ugly. They say I have no friends,” says Keaton, who, according to WTVF in Tennessee, was born with a tumor. Bullies “poured milk on me and put ham down my clothes, threw bread at me,” he said, describing their lunchtime behavior.
Still, he says through tears, “I don't like that they do it to me and I for sure don't like that they do it to other people.” That awareness earned him props from Justin Bieber.
“The fact that he still has the sympathy and compassion for other people when he's going through it himself is a testament to who he is,” Bieber said in an Instagram video. “This kid is all-time, he's a legend, go check him out.” In another short video, the “Sorry” singer said, “We’re all rooting for you … love ya, buddy.”
Snoop Dogg wrote, “Say lil Man U gotta friend in me for life hit me on dm so we can chop it up love is the only way to beat hate.”
“People who are different don't need to be criticized about it. It's not their fault,” Keaton said, earning a reply from “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, who wrote, “Different is special. You’re beautiful Keaton. Inside and out.”
Pro athletes from Tennessee teams chimed in, including Chandler Parsons of the Memphis Grizzlies and Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, the latter of whom read Keaton a poem by Buddha in a video inviting the boy and his family to a Dec. 31 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
J.R. Smith of the Cleveland Cavaliers called Keaton's experience a “damn shame” and invited him to a Cavs game when they play in Memphis, which drew a response from LeBron James.
“Damn right! Bullies are straight up wack, corny, cowards, chumps, etc, etc!,” James wrote. “Keaton keep your head up buddy and push forward! You’re the best.”
Later, Smith was challenged to take back his comments after photos of the Jones family posing with the Confederate flag were found on Kimberly Jones' Facebook, with a comment from Keaton's mother speaking out against athletes who were kneeling for the national anthem. Smith replied, “Idc [I don't care] about that it’s not ok for people to do that idc what your beliefs are.”
At one point Monday, Lakyn Jones found herself defending her brother against Patricia Arquette, who had been told that Keaton had bullied people over race. In addition to saying her family was not racist, Lakyn said they were not profiting from the newfound attention; they’re not soliciting donations and don’t have a GoFundMe campaign set up.
A GoFundMe campaign that was started by a New Jersey man was suspended Monday afternoon after collecting more than $57,000 in pledges. Joseph Lam told the Wrap he was “more concerned for the kid” than the mother and wanted to help with a fund that would go toward private school or college.
John Mayer had an astute assessment of the backlash on Monday. The singer-songwriter called it “a window into how we assess/index/respond to situations and ultimately what we walk away from them thinking.”
He closed a long Twitter thread by writing, “Pay attention to what you’re thinking about and how you’re thinking about it here. The fingerprint we leave on this situation will be the cleanest one we’ve left all year. How we play this out is who we are.”
All that said, let’s get back to the people who took Keaton's side early. He was invited to a couple of movie premieres, courtesy of Hailee Steinfeld, who asked him to be her date Tuesday for “Pitch Perfect 3,” and Chris Evans, who asked him and his mom to attend the “Avengers: Infinity War” debut in May.
The comments from high-profile folks came in droves. A few examples:
“Keaton owns my heart,” said comic and “Two Broke Girls” co-creator Whitney Cummings.
Millie Bobby Brown retweeted a post from “Suits” actor Patrick J. Adams, who said he was “bullied constantly” while growing up. The 13-year-old “Stranger Things” actress added, “Keaton, this is so accurate. Why do people do this? I think your sooo cool Keaton! I wanna be your friend ( but srsly) ur freakin awesome.”
“‘Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.’ Stay strong Keaton, you’re a very brave young man and a lot of great folks have your back. @Lakyn_Jones if there is anything we can do for Keaton, please let us know. #StandWithKeaton #StopBullying,” the band Nickelback tweeted.
“Anytime we’re in Knox, Keaton and yall are always welcome at the show. What an amazing and strong young man!” country singer Scotty McCreery said.
“We here on ‘The Flash’ are on your side — and against bullies everywhere,” said “Flash” actor Tom Cavanaugh.
“This whole #StandWithKeaton movement is so beyond heartwarming! Can’t wait to see him and his mom with all the super heros,” actress Juliette Lewis tweeted.
“Keaton, the bullies won't win. You are strong, you are loved and you have a lot of support and friends who are standing with you and your family,” Jon Bon Jovi said. “I'm with you. #StandWithKeaton.”
It didn’t stop with athletes and entertainers.
Bullying at Horace Maynard Middle School, which Keaton attends, is “not as rampant as the video would have you believe,” principal Greg Clay told USA Today on Monday. "I can't tell you what was done, but I can tell you action was taken with the children." The school already had an anti-bullying program scheduled for January, Clay said.
“No child should ever fear going to school or participating in events because of a bully. This behavior is simply unacceptable. Kentucky stands with Keaton and all those who have been bullied.” That came from Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
Perhaps Keaton, through tears, said it best. “If you are made fun of, just don't let it bother you. They suck, I guess. Hard. But,” he says, pausing briefly, “it'll probably get better one day.”
3:55 p.m.: This article was updated with information about a GoFundMe account started by a man who doesn’t know the family.
2:56 p.m.: This article was updated with tweets from John Mayer.
2:28 p.m.: This article was updated with details about backlash against a Facebook post by Kimberly Jones and comments from J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Lakyn Jones and Greg Clay.
This article was originally published at 12:29 p.m.