Five years ago, Dillan Tatum was a target. The now 15-year-old boy from Harlingen was once the center of merciless bullying at the hands of his classmates. He remembers all of it; the names and mockery were constant and degrading. Being a bi-racial child who used to struggle with his weight, boys at school thought of him as nothing more than a target.

One day he made a decision. Fed up with the abuse, he enrolled in a jiu-jitsu class at the Harlingen Jiu-Jitsu Club and began a personal journey that has since changed his life. No longer a target, Dillan has become one of the region’s top jiu-jitsu fighters and recently competed in the Kids World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Ontario, California, the largest tournament of its type in the world under mentors Jeff Bonugli of Green Ghost Hero Academy, Los Fresnos and Jake Montalvo of Harlingen Jiu-Jitsu Club, a well known MMA referee.

Dillan competed in the 16-17 year old blue belt middleweight division and went undefeated in four matches, winning two of them in just under 30 seconds. Five years ago, he never thought he would be in such a position, but jiu-jitsu has become such an empowering experience that has bolstered his self-esteem and strengthened his convictions.

Now a rising 10th grader at the Harlingen School of Health Professions, Dillan has made it a priority to stand against bullying anywhere he sees it. A former victim, Dillan now goes out of his way to befriend and comfort those who find themselves subjects of bullying.

“Three things that Dillan despises are bullying, racism and sexism,” Dan Tatum, Dillan’s father, said in an email. “He will not stand by when someone is bullied. He will not remain quiet when racist comments are made. He says he is a feminist and does not like sexist comments.”

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An expert on the mat, Dillan has also excelled in the classroom, where he maintains at 4.0 GPA with his sights set on college. He currently has an interest in entering dentistry, as well as becoming a world-class jiu-jitsu fighter.

What is amazing about a boy like Dillan is the inherent contradiction of his acts. Here is a boy who is an expert in hand-to-hand combat while being a man of peace outside the ring. It quickly becomes apparent that jiu-jitsu didn’t change him so much as it strengthened the person he already was.

His body may have gained strength, but the strength of his mind and heart was already there. Jiu-jitsu simply gave him a voice he couldn’t find before.

Through it all, Dillan has remained humble. He doesn’t see his acts, inside or outside the ring, as something worth bragging about, just something he enjoys and believes in.

“He had two friends over recently while a local news station was running a story on him and he didn’t want to watch,” his father said in an email. “He does not care for the attention. He could have bragged to his friends but instead just wanted to stay in his room while they played video games.”

For Dillan, he’s just enjoying his life, a concept he believes that everyone should have the right to. No longer a target, he’s a beacon showing kids that they’re people, too.

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Kristian is a journalist by training, sports writer by habit, and a storyteller at heart. He graduated from Boston University with a degree in journalism in 2011 and over the course of his career he has covered beats, worked media relations, and produced advertising copy for a multitude of clients.

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