Gov. Nikki Haley brought her statewide anti-bullying campaign to Hilton Head Island on Thursday.
Haley, the state's first female and first Indian-American governor, told students at the Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts of her own experience being bullied in elementary school for being "brown."
"I grew up in a small town where we were the only Indian family, and I was bullied because they didn't know if I was black or if I was white," she said. "All I knew was I was Indian. I was brown; and I was bullied because I wouldn't take a side. ... So I told my parents and my parents talked to the teachers, and we ended up educating the class.
"Today, we're all good friends. But what I learned was to be strong and to speak up."
Haley proclaimed October in South Carolina as Bullying Prevention Month, part of the first-term governor's promotion of safe, positive schools. The campaign also seeks to raise awareness of bullying's negative effects on a child's health and learning.
Haley took questions from the students and played a video featuring Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, Miss South Carolina USA Courtney Turner and Miss Teen South Carolina USA 2011 Keyla Childs.
Their message: Cool kids don't bully.
Haley also reminded students that bullying doesn't stop once they become adults.
"We've got senators at the Statehouse, they can be really big bullies. But if you learn how to handle it now, you will learn how to handle it then," she said.
The Republican governor drew criticism of her own in 2011 for calling Charleston Post and Courier reporter Renee Dudley a "little girl" over her objections to Dudley's coverage of questionable taxpayer spending by Haley and other state officials on a trip to Europe.
Dudley is a former Island Packet reporter.
Haley later apologized, saying, the story "painted a grossly inaccurate picture and was unprofessionally done, but my 'little girl' comment was inappropriate, and I regret that."
Haley visited the Hilton Head Island school at the request of fourth-grader Hannah Reed, whose parents are friends of the Haley family.
Fifth-grader Emily Gaddy, 10, was impressed with the governor's message and surprised to hear of Haley's troubles with bullying, something Emily said she also has experienced.
"I think it was powerful and will help some kids," she said. "I think I can definitely learn from her, because she's been bullied, and now she's the governor."
The Beaufort County School District redoubled efforts to end bullying in 2011 after a video of a brutal fight in a Hilton Head High School locker room reduced some veteran educators to tears.
Students Thursday passed out buttons of the school's mascot reminding peers, "If You See Something, Say Something."
Beaufort High School drama students performed their anti-bullying show of the same name later that afternoon at Bluffton High School, distributing bracelets and brochures containing the district's toll-free anti-bullying hotline numbers, 843-322-2435 and 866-611-1102. Students can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It really is a district to watch and one we're going to be talking to other school districts about," Haley said.
Video: Gov. Haley talks about bullying
Gov. Nikki Haley visited the Hilton Head Island School for Creative Arts to talk about bullying with the students on Thursday, Oct. 24. Video by Delayna Earley
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.