OWOSSO — A former Michigan State University basketball player Wednesday delivered an anti-bullying message and raised awareness about autism while speaking at Owosso elementary schools.
“There was this one kid,” Motivational speaker Anthony Ianni told students. “He was a fifth-grader. He would treat me with no respect. I was so mad one night, I went home and let it all out. I told myself I was going to punch him the next day.”
Ultimately, Ianni didn’t hit the bully because he was worried about getting suspended.
Ianni, a member of MSU’s 2010 and 2012 Big Ten and tournament championship teams, and the 2010 Final Four team, spoke at Emerson, Central and Bryant elementary schools, and shared his personal story with students.
Ianni was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4, and was the victim of bullying as a child. However, he graduated from MSU and was the first known individual with autism to play Division I college basketball.
He has won many awards, including MSU’s Tim Bograkos Walk-On Award, the 2012 MSU Unsung Player Award, and was named a 2013 Detroit Pistons Community Game Changer finalist.
Since Ianni started his Relentless Tour in October 2013, he has spoken to tens of thousands of students, educators and leaders in Michigan and across the country.
Through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Ianni is raising awareness of autism and the problem of bullying in schools with his presentations. According to the state of Michigan, 65 to 90 percent of people with autism are victims of bullying at some point in their lives.
“The Relentless Tour is an anti-bullying initiative I started over five years ago,” Ianni said. “We want to visit every middle school in the state of Michigan. When I started it with former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, I was getting phone calls from high schools, charter schools, private and elementary schools that wanted to be a part of it. The initiative is to promote awareness through my story of overcoming challenges with having autism and being bullied in school.”
During his presentation at Bryant Elementary Wednesday, Ianni described the challenges he faced when he was growing up. He said he was glad he didn’t fight the boy who bullied him.
“Things will only get worse,” Ianni told students. “Let your actions and talent in life speak for you.”
Ianni said that years later, that same individual asked him for an autograph when Ianni was leaving Breslin Arena following a game.
“What goes around, comes around,” Ianni said.
Ianni then spoke about numerous celebrities who were diagnosed as autistic and were bullied at a young age, including Eminem, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna.
“But celebrities aren’t going to change anything,” Ianni said. “Your principal isn’t going to change anything. Your teachers aren’t going to change anything. The only ones who are going to change anything are you. That change is you.”
Bryant Elementary Principal Michelle Collison noted some instructors have already begun using Ianni’s message in their classrooms.
“We’ve really been working on anti-bullying,” Collison said. “A couple of our teachers have already started being the change. So it’s a great tie-in.”