When one boy found himself the victim of racist bullying, he was completely terrified. The awful incident left him feeling too scared to walk home from school. But then hundreds of people came to support him against his bullies.
Mateus Romauldo lives in Murray, Utah, with his family. He attended Viewmont Elementary School. Like many 11-year-olds, the youngster had a boisterous personality and loved nothing more than hanging out with his friends after class.
However, in October 2017 a terrifying incident left Mateus’ outgoing character in tatters. The youngster had been walking home from school when he became the victim of bullying. And it seemed that a gang of teenagers had targeted him purely because of the color of his skin.
As Mateus walked along the sidewalk, the bullies rolled down their car window and shouted racial slurs at him as they drove by. Not content with their initial efforts to intimidate him, they then turned their car around and repeated their hateful actions, revving the engine as they did so. And the experience left Mateus terrified.
As a result, when the vile gang were out of sight Mateus called his mother, Heather. In a subsequent Facebook post, the mom wrote, “He frequently calls after school, asking to go to a friend’s house or wanting to know what time I will be home. This time was different.”
“He was breathless and sounded afraid, he ran home, calling me when he was far enough away not to see them anymore,” Heather added. “He recounted the experience and said to me, ‘Mom – I thought they were going to shoot me.’ My heart just broke.”
Heather couldn’t believe that her son had been terrorized in such a way just because of the way that he looked. She was seething that a gang of bullies would leave her son feeling like he was a bad person due to the color of his skin. And that was why she felt compelled to write about the incident on her Facebook page.
She explained how the bullies had left Mateus completely petrified. “He does not want to leave the house,” Heather wrote. “He doesn’t want to leave his room. My usually boisterous child is flat and apathetic.”
The concerned mom consequently reported her son’s ordeal to the police. She said that the officers she dealt with were saddened by her account. They filed a report and began investigating the case. It was going to take a lot more for Mateus to feel safe again, however.
“After today, things will never be the same for him or for me,” Heather wrote. “He will never walk home from school again. There is no bus available for his school, but if I can’t find him a ride, I will leave my job and take him home.”
Heather’s social media post sent shockwaves through a community who couldn’t believe that something so unpleasant could happen on their streets. Among those appalled by what Mateus had gone through was Troy Harlan, Mateus’ basketball coach.
And Harlan knew all too well what it’s like to be made to feel different because of the color of your skin. “I know that when I read the post that his mom wrote about him being scared, I’ve gone through all that,” Harlan told KSTU. “I grew up in Davis County and I know what it feels like to be one of only two black kids at my school.”
Harlan was disappointed that he hadn’t been there to protect Mateus from his bullies. And he was devastated that the youngster was considering giving up his daily walks to and from school because of what happened. So he came up with an ingenious plan to help the youngster regain his confidence.
Alongside Mateus’ mom, the basketball coach organized a group walk so that the youngster didn’t have to return home from school alone. Heather created a page for the event on Facebook. And before long dozens of people had signed up to join.
Explaining the purpose of the walk, Heather wrote, “This peaceful event is an opportunity for all of those that are interested and able to visibly demonstrate their solidarity and support of Mateus and all of the other children who should be able to safely walk home from school.”
Most of all, Heather wanted the demonstration to make it clear that racism will not be tolerated in their community. “The message I want to happen is that people need to be held accountable,” Harlan agreed. “You’re not born to hate people, you’re taught to hate people. I don’t care what color you are, we are all the same. ”
So, the walk was scheduled for 2:00 p.m., when Mateus would be leaving school. His journey home was approximately one mile, but Heather encouraged people to join for however long they could manage. “One block of love and support will send a message to my son and to all of those who need to hear it,” she said.
Heather hoped that the community would get behind Mateus and her cause. Nothing could have prepared her for the support that they’d receive, however. And that’s because hundreds of people turned up to walk her frightened little boy home.
Among the crowds was former Utah Jazz basketball player Thurl Bailey and the team’s mascot. It seemed that Harlan had used his contacts in the sporting world to draw even more attention to the walk. Mateus’ bullies may have left him feeling vulnerable, but they were not going to have the last laugh.
Many of the friends and family who marched with Mateus chose to hold anti-racism signs to show their solidarity. For Heather, is was a beautiful moment that highlighted how proud her community was of its cultural differences. “This is amazing,” she told KSTU. “I really had no idea this would become such a big, big deal – but it is a big deal.”