At 5 foot 3 inches tall, Keta Rush is a compact force of nature in the wrestling ring.
When she steps onto the mat, she throws on her signature gold cape and instantly becomes a badass, real-life superhero on a mission to empower kids and eradicate youth bullying.
“I feel so damn powerful and so strong and confident and so sure of who I am in this world," says Rush (born Keta Meggett), MMA fighter, actress and founder of the nonprofit Team Bully Buster. "I am strong as fuck and anyone who wrestles me, they’re like, ‘Damn girl, you are so strong.’”
She often goes by nicknames such as “the Pretty Flower” and “gangster ballerina,” and she's known for her bubbly personality, her graceful acrobatic moves and unforgiving double dropkicks.
Meggett says she “accidentally” got her start as pro wrestler Keta Rush “The Bully Buster” on WOW Women of Wrestling in 2012.
“I thought it was the sci-fi show Heroes, and when I walked in, they called my name, and there was a fucking wrestling ring in there.”
The audition turned out to be nothing short of a blessing in disguise, Meggett says. But at the time, she didn’t want anything to do with combat sports. Just watching and sitting through the audition brought back painful memories of being bullied and harassed in high school, when she was unable to defend herself.
“I still have PTSD like a mother and can’t stand in Ralphs with my back to someone, let alone [have] someone in a ring slam me,” she recalls. “I was totally scared of this type of stuff.”
But something told her to stay and watch the fight. “Not until the last girl entered the ring and picked up a girl twice my size and threw her was I like, ‘Wow. I want to be badass. I’m tired of being afraid of everything.’”
Meggett agreed to audition for the role as a pro wrestler. She trained six hours a day, six days a week, for three months.
When she came up with her wrestling name, Keta Rush, she meant it as an answer to the identity questions she’s faced all her life, like “What are you?” or “Are you mixed?” The question she once feared became an empowering opportunity to share her story and speak out against youth bullying. She began to embrace her “ethnically ambiguous” identity and chose to be recognized as Keta Rush, the Bully Buster. “I said to myself, ‘I want to be the voice for the people.'”
Meggett proudly wears her gold cape, which symbolizes her strength and resilience as a survivor of bullying and intimate partner abuse.
“I essentially became 'the Bully Buster' in every aspect of my life,” she says.
High school was the first time Meggett got a taste of being bullied by haters who spewed verbal insults. At one point, she says, she was physically assaulted by a group of eight girls at a school in North Hills; they targeted her because of her biracial identity, says Meggett, who is half Guatemalan and half African-American.
As a biracial victim of bullying, she is not alone.
Data compiled by children’s wellness advocacy group KidsData.org show that from 2011 to 2013, 48.3 percent of African-American students (grades 7, 9 and 11) in L.A. County reported being bullied or harassed. African-American students were more likely to be bullied than other ethnic groups, according to the data. Additionally, 40.7 percent of multiracial students reported being bullied or harassed at school.
According to an internal audit on anti-bullying initiatives released by LAUSD, 23 schools were visited during April to May 2016, and researchers “noted that 19 out of 20 schools (95 percent) did not provide comprehensive/dedicated anti-bullying training to school staff.” A total of 65,310 students responded to the survey, and complete data were obtained from 48,206 students. Nineteen percent of all students surveyed in the audit stated they had been "bullied by a student or other students this school year.”
According to an emailed statement provided by LAUSD to L.A. Weekly, bullying is often underreported and over-identified. “When examining data, care must be taken to differentiate between alleged and actual/verified incidents of bullying. Research substantiates that the most effective and recommended response to bullying is building prosocial environments, where all members of the school community are honored.”
At the time she was physically assaulted, Meggett had been grappling with her parents’ divorce; a few months before that, her mother had been hit by a car and was fighting for her life. There was a lot going on at home, so she kept the bullying a secret, she says — until things turned sour. She says the bullying worsened to the point where she landed in the hospital for about a week with broken bones, shoulder blades and rib cage and injuries to her pancreas and liver.
Meggett says she struggled with self-esteem, lost her faith and lived in fear at school.
“I tried to kill myself. I hated school. I struggled with my grades, I was depressed and was in therapy and counseling to work on my PTSD,” she says. “I thought, if this is the world where people beat you up because of your skin, what is the point of living?”
After moving to another school district, Meggett focused on becoming an actress and began booking auditions and commercials. She went on to become a Muay Thai practitioner and a champion in jiu-jitsu.
Through her adult years, she didn't openly discuss her story until she sat down with a director of a play during a character-building session, who urged her to share a time when she felt particularly vulnerable. Meggett shared the story of being bullied in high school and felt she needed to create a safe space for kids.
“He said, ‘It’s insane that you’re this happy-go-lucky and doing the damn thing. You should tell your story, and I’m sure you’ll inspire people.’ And he was like, ‘There’s power in it; if there’s power in being vulnerable, you should share it.’”
In 2012, Meggett did just that. She went on to found her nonprofit, Team Bully Buster, and invited life coaches, martial artists and mentors to instill in youth self-defense, confidence and leadership skills. “I’m not teaching people to fight. Theoretically what I’m doing is showing you that you have the power and right to get away from anyone and any situation you don’t want to be in.”
Meggett says that these days, bullying has morphed into a “monster and a pandemic,” like the recent case of the viral video of a teenage boy who was punched by a classmate and suffered a brain injury, or the incident where classmates used anti-Semitic and anti-gay taunts to harass a 14-year-old student.
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According to national studies on bullying, there’s been an overall national decrease in the number of reported bullying in schools, says Dr. Brendesha Tynes, associate professor of education and psychology at the USC Rossier School of Education. Tynes, who focuses on race-related experiences in the digital space and cyberbullying experiences, also points out that in regional studies, the numbers associated with bullying tend to be much higher, depending on the type of victimization. For instance, in L.A. County, student reports of bullying are higher than what the national studies are finding, she says.
In her latest study, UCLA professor Jaana Juvonen and her team found that youths attending ethnically more diverse schools felt safer in school and dealt with fewer bullies, and felt less lonely than those who attended less diverse schools, she explains to L.A. Weekly. While anti-bullying policies are now in place in most schools, one of the questions is whether these policies are practiced in ways that make a difference, Juvonen says.
The doors for Team Bully Buster’s first physical location will open in August in Studio City. Meggett, who is now in her 30s, continues to live with PTSD but believes her work with Team Bully Buster and her involvement in MMA have greatly taken the fear out of her life so she can serve others and continue to empower youth.
“I love when people ask me what I am now," she says. "I’m proud to stay I’m Guatemalan and black. I want other youth to see me and be like, 'I like her. I like that she’s little and does the damn thing.'”