After his son was mocked and insulted with homophobic slurs during a school dance performance, dad Greg Long took action — but not in an angry way.
Long established a nonprofit organization aimed at eliminating bullying and supporting dancers who are in financial need. Long's son, who has been dancing competitively since he was 6 years old, was 14 at the time. In a new episode of "Dads Got This!" hosted by TODAY's Craig Melvin, the father-son duo talked about how the negative experience set them on a unique path.
"Some of the students were saying derogatory comments and some slurs," said Jimmy Long, now 16. Instead of getting upset about the reaction to his son's performance, Long let it inspire him.
"I got to listen to how 8- or 9- or 12-year-olds process that kind of bigotry and (homophobia)," Long told TODAY. "Instead of getting angry, I decided to make a T-shirt for them. And I came up with, 'Hey, we're just going to dance on. We're just going to move past this.'"
Now, the #DanceOn nonprofit has sold thousands of shirts and created scholarships that go directly to dancers in need of financial aid. The organization also hosts master classes and events with professional male dancers, who often share their own stories of being bullied growing up, and choreographs conceptual dance videos that amplify #DanceOn's message of acceptance and tolerance.
In 2018, Jimmy spoke about the organization's anti-bullying method before former first lady Michelle Obama took the stage to launch the book tour for her memoir, "Becoming."
"I lost it," Jimmy's father said. "I admittedly had tears coming down my face, because the strength that it takes for somebody like that to stand in front of 20,000 people and say, 'I've been bullied and I'm not going to let it stop me from what I like to do' — it was a proud moment."
Long said that the experience of watching his son develop resilience while following his passion has been "humbling," above all else.
"It's been nice to be a part of this as opposed to just being a dad who claps very loudly in the back of the auditorium," he said, laughing.
"I definitely couldn't have done this without my dad," Jimmy said. "He helped me realize a lot of important lessons, like, 'Stay true to yourself,' and he is just super supportive."
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