Jonathan Seltzer started out wanting to be just like everyone else.
It was 2011, and he was just one of many fifth-graders heading from their elementary school into Hammarskjold, and from day one he had one simple goal.
“I went into Hammarskjold thinking, I’m going try my best to fit in, try my best to make as many friends as I can and not say a word that is mean, to just be the average kid that you’d meet, and have a regular Hammarskjold life,” he said.
Seltzer realized that he would not be having a “regular Hammarskjold life,” when on his second day a fellow student started bullying him.
“On the first day I met a lot of people, but on the second day I was bullied,” he said. “Somebody called me gay. It was weird, because I barely knew them. I’m not personally gay. I was confused and upset.”
It wasn’t until a month later that, after being bullied by a group of students, he reported it to school officials and to his parents. But it didn’t stop. During the year, Jonathan had five confirmed harassment/bullying incidents where he was the victim, his father, Butch Seltzer, said. The district conducted investigations and the findings were sent to Louis Figueroa, assistant superintendent of student activities and services. The incidents included at least one in which a female student threatened to have him beaten up, and cyber bullying. All five cases, said Seltzer, were in violation of the state’s anti-bullying law. Jonathan’s parents also have filed police reports when they feel that there is a possible threat to their son. Fortunately, he and his father say there hasn’t been a bullying incident in some time.
But rather than being just a victim or waiting for another incident, Jonathan has taken matters into his own hands by becoming an outspoken opponent of bullying. He has addressed the Board of Education, classes in Hammarskjold, spoken at anti-bullying rallies, and was honored by Mayor David Stahl for his work during the fall’s Dining for a Cause benefit.
“I just talked about my experiences,” Jonathan said about his talk with the Board of Education. “Even though there were a few experiences, they were bad. You don’t just forget bullying. It haunts you. It comes back to you…I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I had to feel.”
One very real way that bullying can hurt you, and can live with you forever, is on the internet, where if something is said, it can be read by thousands of people and very often is there “forever.”
“If they put something on Facebook, it’s a horrible thing for all of your friends to see,” said Jonathan. “They can read it over, and over and over and your friends can read it over and over and over, and the bully doesn’t even have to be bothered with it. It’s worse than physical bullying and it’s the worst thing anyone can go through. You just think to yourself, who would think of writing something so mean to me in front of all my friends. It’s embarrassing to me as well as hurtful.”
Jonathan also hopes to one day start his own foundation to spread the anti-bullying message. His goal, he said, is to try and touch a bully or inspire others to speak out against it as well. It makes sense, considering it was his friends who first encouraged him to report the incidents.
“My friends are so supportive,” said Jonathan. “It was my friends that said ‘Jonathan, go tell somebody about this.’ I don’t know where I’d be without them. I could have done things to myself. I could have harmed myself.”
Jonathan’s anti-bullying message hasn’t gone unnoticed by his father.
“It’s very courageous of him to get up there,” said Seltzer. “He bites his nails to the point where he bleeds. He gets anxiety attacks. We’ve found him curled up in a ball crying,
“He’s been speaking out for two very reasons. One is to get the message out to everyone, and also maybe one of these bullies will hear it. That’s one reason we’ve allowed him to speak out, as parents.”
Seltzer knows that despite his son’s willingness to speak out against bullying and the family’s efforts to combat it in the schools, there always the specter that it will happen again. That’s a feeling that can never go away.
“I don’t live in fear of getting bullied,” said Jonathan. “I’m afraid something worse is going to happen.”
Jonathan uses his experiences to drive him in other areas of his life. He is active in the school’s student government and a talented performer.
Performing. That is Jonathan’s real release. That is where he shines, and whether it is in song or dance or acting, it is where he feels most comfortable. Jonathan takes vocal lessons with Ron Sharpe, who played Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” on Broadway. He said Sharpe is not only a wonderful instructor, but a wonderful role model.
“He’s been very supportive as far as his bullying goes,” said Seltzer. “He puts his students in his touring show and he’s come to see some of Jonathan’s performances.”
He also attends theater camps in the area, which provide him not only with a creative outlet, but a group of peers with similar interests and who have gone through many of the same things he has.
“They’ve gone through it,” said Jonathan. “You’re in the same room with people that are just the same age, and since we all have one dream, to sing and be performers, we’ve all gone through similar things. We all act different but we’re put on stereotypes and stereotypes are the worst thing to ever put on someone.”
His father agreed.
“The great thing there, all the kids are like him,” said Seltzer. “All the kids are the same and they’ve all been bullied so they’re the most unbelievably sweet, accepting kids you’d ever want to meet. “
So what is in store for Jonathan? He recently returned from a trip to Charlotte N.C., to audition for “America’s Got Talent.” It’s his second time trying out for the television show and on Jan. 26, at 7 p.m., he is going to sing the National Anthem for the Trenton Titans hockey team. Jonathan also has plans to singthe Anthem at an upcoming Somerset Patriots game, something hes done in the past.
"We were very excited to have Jonathan come out to perform the National Anthem at the ballpark. He did a tremendous job and really was one of the best anthem singers we had all year. We were very proud not just of his performance, but also of all the work he has been doing to spread the anti-bullying message to schools in our area," said Patrick McVerry, President/General Manager of the Somerset Patriots.
Visit Jonathan's website at www.jonathanseltzer.com and check out his photos and keep up to date on what he's up to.