Sharon Edwards was at Renovation Church in Clarksville the first time she heard Norez rap. She heard lyrics that resonated with her, and saw how his presence drew everyone in the room. Edwards, a local anti-bullying activist, author and public speaker, knew when she heard him sing he could be the voice for her movement. She and her husband, Ellery Edwards, founded the “I’m Invisible” Anti-Bullying and Suicide Campaign in 2012, focused on education about and prevention of bullying. “The campaign is all about being yourself and celebrating who you are. With us working together, it’s taking everything to a new level,” Edwards said.
Norez (Cee McNeilus) remembers the day Edwards approached him about her campaign in May 2017. “I just googled bullying. I was almost in tears. I thought, how could I be so oblivious to this?” he said. The connection sparked a change in the movement. With their partnership, they’ve been able to reach more schools and victims of bullying around Clarksville. While already working on his own album, Norez’s priorities began to take a turn. In August, he released two singles for the campaign: “I’m Invisible” and “You.” “I’m thankful for this because it’s shifted my identity from being just a music artist to being a life changer,” he said.
With the release of his EP, he has helped give presentations at Kenwood Middle School and Northeast Middle School, and he will be speaking at Austin Peay State University this month. This past October, the campaign hosted its first “BE YOU” Anti-Bullying Fashion & Talent Showcase at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center. “We are going to be that hope. We are going to be that light that people need to see out of a dark place,” he said. Alondra Swink, 22, first heard Norez sing “You” at Tabernacle Church. “He just kind of showed up out of the blue with a platform that I was looking for,” she said. “I just went up to him and asked, ‘Why do you write? Who do you write for?”‘
Swink was touched by his words, having dealt with depression, anxiety, and most notably, anorexia, since she was 12 years old. Swink says there are three things people don’t realize about depression. First, people don’t always look like they’re sick. Second, that recovery is real. And lastly, that there is life outside of mental illness. “People say suicide isn’t an option, but it is. And that’s why we need to talk about it. The most important part of the movement is that we’re talking,” she said. Since meeting Norez, Swink has started to talk openly about what she’s dealt with. For the first time this past December, she read from her published book of poetry, “Darkness Receding,” to an audience.
“People are going to listen if they know you actually understand. I want to help kids notice something is wrong before they’re too old. The earlier you catch it, the harder it is to treat,” she said. Katie Conner, an eighth-grader at Northeast Middle, first heard Norez sing at the “Be You” Anti-Bullying Fashion & Talent Showcase. “My friends and I were so impacted by his music that we were crying,” she said. “A few years ago, I lost my grandfather, and it really put me in a dark place. For me, it was always people talking about the way I dressed. They found it an easy reason to pick on me. Last year, I wouldn’t talk to anyone.” Katie said music gives her inspiration, and hearing Norez’s songs and getting involved in the movement has given her new purpose.
“My goal is to be there for someone who is also going through bullying. I want to be the person they can look up to — someone who can tell them it will get better,” she said. In the past year, Katie has been more involved at school, from helping produce the morning news with the media team to photographing school dances and being part of the drama club. “This year I have tougher skin,” she said. For Sharon Edwards, starting this campaign comes from personal experience of being bullied as a child and from suffering with depression for 13 years. She saw a need for a platform, and she wants it to grow. The campaign partners with Pass the Beauty, an organization that supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and bullying, Nashville Peacemakers and Renovation Church.
Norez says his first album, the culmination over nine months of work, will release this spring. He will also be performing in May in Victorville, California, at the Freestyle & Old School Music Festival, which will serve as a benefit concert for children with disabilities, and an organization called Babies So Special. He will perform alongside artists including Vanilla Ice and Digital Underground.
“We want to bring awareness and we want to be the change that is so desperately needed among our young people,” said Norez.