The mother of a young Tennessee boy whose heart-wrenching video of his addressing bullies gained national attention is defending her family against accusations of racism.
"That’s not who we are," Kimberly Jones said in an interview with "Good Morning America" that aired today.
Eleven-year-old Keaton Jones became an internet sensation this week after Jones posted a video on Facebook showing Keaton’s sobbing as he described how he was bullied by classmates, who poured milk over his head, stuffed ham in his clothes and threw bread at him.
“Why do they bully, what's the point of it?" Jones said in the video, which was first posted Friday. "Why do you find joy in taking innocent people and finding a way to be mean to them? It's not OK."
Over 20 million people watched the video and musicians, actors, TV personalities and athletes have responded to Keaton’s video on social media using the trending hashtag #StandWithKeaton to show their support for the middle school student.
But Keaton’s strong anti-bullying message became clouded in controversy Monday after a photo surfaced on social media of the family with a Confederate flag. Jones told ABC News the photo is real but said she is not racist.
“I feel like anybody who wants to take the time to ask anybody who I am or even troll through some other pictures, I mean I feel like we're not racist,” Jones told ABC News. "I mean, people that know us, know us."
"[The photo] was meant to be ironic and funny and extreme," she added. "I am genuinely, truly sorry. If i could take it back I would."
Even after Jones’ photo and alleged writing came to light, many people online are still standing by Keaton, saying they can separate the 11-year-old from his mother’s reported actions.
With the revelations about #KeatonJones family surfacing we must remember a few things. We cannot hold kids accountable for the actions of their parents/family. Though disheartening, we were all moved by the effects of bullying and to end it. Let’s continue to focus on that.— Parson James (@ParsonJames) December 11, 2017
Boy behind viral anti-bullying video amazed by support, celebrity responses
In an interview with "GMA" Monday, Keaton said he “never imagined” his story would gain the attention of dozens of celebrities, including Donald Trump Jr., who offered him an invitation to his home.
“All this attention really just feels amazing,” Keaton said. “[I’m] speechless, honestly. I did not ever imagine for any of this to happen.
“I think my message is being heard because, I mean, we’ve gone national. So many people are supporting us,” he added.
Keaton said the most exciting celebrity response he got was from actor Chris Evans, who urged him to “stay strong” and invited him to Los Angeles to see the premiere of the Marvel Studios-produced “Avengers: Infinity War” next year.
“The most exciting celebrity for me is Chris Evans. I love Captain America,” Keaton said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was little for Captain America to know who I am.
Stay strong, Keaton. Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better. While those punks at your school are deciding what kind of people they want to be in this world, how would you and your mom like to come to the Avengers premiere in LA next year? https://t.co/s1QwCQ3toi— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 10, 2017
"Well, he knows who I am,” he added.
Keaton today said he made the video because he wanted to let people know that bullying is “a serious thing.”
“I made the video to raise awareness for bullying, not for fame or fortune, it was not at all for that. It was to raise awareness to bullying,” he said. “[It’s] a serious thing that goes on in our society. People criticize other people for the way they look and act; it's not their fault.”
Keaton’s mom also disputed allegations she is using their story to extract money from people. Jones approved one GoFundMe campaign to be set up in Keaton’s honor, she said, but cautioned that others were fakes.
“If they want to hate me or whatever that's fine, but still talk to your kids because this is an epidemic. This is an epidemic,” she told ABC News of bullying.
In a statement to ABC News, the Tennessee school district where Keaton attends school said that bullying is not and will not be tolerated.
“To fulfill our mission of educating all children in Union County Public Schools, we must provide an academic environment that is safe, civil and supportive,” Union County Public Schools director James Carter said in a statement.
“We do not and will not tolerate bullying and have a policy in place that addresses conduct taking place on school grounds, at any school-sponsored activity, on school-provided transportation or at any official school bus stop.”
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