TOMS RIVER – Jessie Chris is a sweet, county music-loving girl from Massachusetts that is now using her own personal experiences to help encourage other kids to follow their dreams and overcome adversity.
As part of her nationwide anti-bullying campaign, up and coming country music artist Jessie Chris recently visited Toms River Intermediate North to tell her story. She spoke to the students about her experiences growing up around people who didn’t support her dreams and how she overcame those that bullied her for her musical passions. The campaign has already taken Chris to different towns throughout New Jersey and others including Syracuse, New York and towns in Pennsylvania.
The tour started just after the New Year, Chris said, and she has been working hard to visit as many schools as possible before the end of the school year. She noted that how many school visits she makes during the week are dependent on several factors. Chris is also busy doing radio shows, making appearances, and traveling to Nashville where her band is. In between these items on her to-do list, she fits in as many school performances as she can.
The auditorium of Intermediate North was packed with young, middle school students anxiously awaiting Chris’ arrival. Her manager, Jeff Gulko, took the stage to introduce her to the audience.
“She had such an awesome time in Toms River (at Intermediate East) two weeks ago, that she wanted to come back,” said Gulko. Chris’ stop at Intermediate North was a last minute addition to her tour agenda, because she loved the response from the local students, he said.
When Chris took the stage, she engaged the students in her story. She told of her life, growing up in Massachusetts and her love of country music, born at an early age. Her trials with discouragement and bullying began the day after she received her first guitar, when her friends called her “weird” and said that “only boys play guitar”, according to Chris.
Despite the negativity, Chris kept on in her determination to learn to play and sing. During her high school years, her music began to take off and she gained some fame. Chris said that even when she started to gain recognition for her music, people still continued to put her down for it, saying things like “you didn’t deserve it” and “just quit.”
“It completely destroyed my self-confidence,” she said. “I felt so alone, I felt lost.”
Chris missed every school activity and dance because she feared being around her classmates. She eventually learned to channel her anger and sadness into her music, writing songs that voiced her feelings in a positive way and encouraged her passion for the art of performing.
“Songwriting became like my diary,” she said. “It was my way of coping.”
From there, her career took off. She went to Nashville to record an album and release it on iTunes and ever since, she has been gaining fame and recognition by appearing on shows like The Today Show and even performing with famous country star, Billy Ray Cyrus.
Chris has accomplished much in just her 20 years of life, becoming the youngest artist to perform at the CMA music festival recently. She noted that she also walked on her first-ever red carpet at the Radio Disney Music Awards and performed at a pre-Grammy party. Chris was also very proud to mention that she was recently named Billboard’s Artist to Watch.
She left the students with a few words of wisdom: “If anybody ever makes you feel like you can’t do something, they’re wrong.”
Chris said that being a friend to someone who is being bullied, or even just offering a smile to someone else can make all the difference.
After her speech, the floor was opened up for the students to ask Chris questions. Dozens of hands shot up into the air, armed with both silly and serious questions for Chris.
Some asked who her celebrity crush was and others asked what her favorite song was. One student asked who her inspiration was, and Chris said that her parents have always been very supportive and have proven to be great role models in her life.
“Talking really makes a big difference,” she said, and noted that any one facing problems should talk to their parents.
Another student asked what her biggest fear was when it came to being bullied.
“I was always afraid of what they would say to my face or how they would try to hurt me,” she answered, speaking honestly and openly with the students.
Chris finished off by performing a few of her most popular songs as the students clapped along to the beat and cheered from the audience.
Her visits to schools to spread an anti-bullying sentiment began back in her high school days. She has continued to work towards this cause, extending it into a nationwide tour to visit middle schools all over the country, engaging them in a dialogue about bullying.
“It’s something that’s really important to me,” she said. “I want to continue to do it even as my career takes off.”
Although her career has already taken an upward turn, Chris said she always makes sure to fit in her school visits because her campaign is something she strongly believes in and it helps her to help others.
Her responses have been very positive so far. She said that she even feels as though she has changed lives, after receiving messages from young kids on Instagram saying that her appearance changed them and helped them believe that there was hope.
In light of all the negative press about bullying these days, Chris said, “I think it is important to see the positives in these situations.”
Chris and her manager revealed over social media that she will be kicking off her headlining tour right here in Toms River at the RWJBarnabas Arena (formerly the Pine Belt Arena) in April.