When the tall chiseled man with the purple/pink mohawk, tattoos and Looney Tunes belt buckle walked into my school’s front office, I wondered how far he really thought he might get beyond our secured lobby.
Turns out, my first impression was overly judgmental. Roman Pizzolato, 34, of Plaquemine, simply wanted to give a motivational speech to students.
The students waiting to get their schedules changed on this second day of school stared at him. I stared, too.
“What do you talk to students about?” I asked him.
“Here I am, this 6-foot-5-tall man, who was once bullied as a child,” he told me. “I was always the biggest kid and by second and third grade, I was the fattest kid. I was quiet and shy and I got picked on.”
This owner and instructor of a martial arts training and fitness program and professional Jiu-Jitsu fighter has nothing to fear these days.
That was not the case in grade school. “They teased me for being big,” he said.
He has since learned a couple of things about bullies.
“Bullies are not confident. Their self-esteem is low, and they want you to feel low so that they can feel up.”
He speaks to students in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes about bullying, its impact and how students can search for outlets to escape the bullying. For him, it was sports.
“I found an outlet and that’s why I got into sports. They teased me for being a big guy, but in football and basketball, it’s good to be big,” he said. “Some of the guys who teased me suddenly needed me to help block them in football plays on the field.”
In high school, he was no longer the kid who got picked on. He was a leader on his school’s football team. “I became popular amongst a lot of people,” he said.
“I was still shy and introverted because of being picked on for so many years as a boy,” he admitted. “To this day, I still don’t have the self-esteem that you might think I would have.”
That really surprised me.
“At 34 years old, I’m still self-conscious,” he said. “Sometimes, I’m still that shy guy who got picked on as a kid.”
Another event sparked Pizzolato’s passion for speaking to young people. After the death of a family member who took his own life around age 20, Pizzolato reflected on how bullying affected his relative and how it “can make you feel worthless … depressed.”
Pizzolato’s actions and words in my school lobby showed his passion for building up others.
“To beat your enemy, you have to learn them,” he said. “When I finally learned my enemy, I loved them.”
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.