Mahkenzee Kennedy, 9, has suffered from hypothyroidism since she was very young. Her classmates — who were unaware of her condition but noticed she was larger than other students — often made her the source of jokes and intense bullying.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that affects the thyroid gland, preventing it from producing enough thyroid hormone. This can lead to severe weight gain that may be difficult to control.
Ruthlessly taunting her, some of the children would call her "fat," and some even would go as far as to say she was God's "mistake."
"She started hating school. Nobody would play with her. Up until a few months ago, she wouldn't even eat lunch... She's afraid to join a group in fear of rejection. It's hard for her," her mother, Teena Kennedy, explained in a tearful interview with local news station KFOR.
Finally, after years of teasing and hurtful comments, Kennedy decided to take a stand against the school bullies. Inspired by her fourth-grade class values of "class, kindness, grace, and love," Kennedy created her anti-bullying campaign "Buddy Benches."
Kennedy's campaign involves setting up benches around the school. When someone needs a friend or someone to talk to, they take a seat on one of the benches and a friend will come up and sit alongside them to talk. However, the benches cost about $600 a pop, which prompted Kennedy to raise money to put her idea into motion.
With the help of her mom and friends, Kennedy held several fundraisers, including car washes and bake sales, to get the money she needed. First Fidelity Bank also caught wind of Kennedy's anti-bullying movement and decided to lend a helping hand by donating a $400 Pay It 4Ward award to Kennedy's cause.
Kennedy said she also wants to help raise money for her school's anti-bullying assembly.
"She said, 'Mom, I have to stand up for me and the others who get bullies and I have to stand up for them.' She's been a voice. A lot of people know about it now," her mother said in the interview.
Kennedy is proof that one small idea can bring about positive change, and standing up for what you believe in can be a powerful thing.