TV show gives Meridian artist Eagan Tilghman platform to show creativity, speak against bullying

Photo by Evans Vestal Ward/NBC

Meridian native and artist Eagan Tilghman appeared on the NBC show "Making It" in December.

After being a contestant on NBC’s “Making It”, Mississippi artist Eagan Tilghman returned home with a renewed sense of creativity. 

Tilghman, 19, also used his time on the reality television series to talk about being a victim of bullying and how art provided relief for him.

Other contestants admired his bravery and voiced support.

Back in Meridian, Mississippi, Tilghman said he was bullied his whole school experience, but it intensified during his senior year, in October 2017, at Northeast Lauderdale High School.

It got so bad that people followed him home and shared photos of him in the restroom, Tilghman said.

When administrators at the school and in the district didn't help, he said, he dropped out of school.

“Not only were the kids against me but the entire system," Tilghman said. "... It was best I just left. I was humiliated on an illegal level and left hung out to dry by the people who were put in place to protect me.”

Tilghman said the bullying led him to enter a rehabilitation center for a week.

“When I left rehab my parents pulled me out of school because I didn’t want to go back, and they didn’t want me going back in that environment either.”

Lauderdale County School District Superintendent John-Mark Cain, who came to the district in the summer of 2018, replied with a statement:

"The Lauderdale County School District takes every complaint seriously and investigates each situation to produce a resolution. We have devoted resources to retrain our faculties and staff on recognizing and handling such complaints.

"The LCSD has partnered with the See Something Say Something campaign to bring more awareness to this issue. Our P3 platform provides students an anonymous way to report incidents as well. The LCSD has utilized the expertise of Attorney Jim Keith of Adams and Reese, LLP to help educate administrators on the case law surrounding bullying and the threshold of what meets the legal standard.

"With the introduction of cell phones, the task of eliminating all forms of bullying has become extremely difficult for school officials as the lines blur between school discipline and legal jurisdiction. Adults once relied on the advice to children of “just ignore them” but now we encourage you “must report them” and try to produce a quicker and safer resolution."

'You will come out on top' 

Tilghman advises anyone in a similar situation to keep pushing forward.

“You will come out on top and they will regret it eventually," he said.

“It’s good to know what I have been working for all these years is finally paying off," Tilghman said. "I can do what I love, people care, and it matters.”

That sentiment was evident on the television show, which provided positive reinforcement, even to the contestants who were cut, one by one.

In its second season, the show hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman began with 10 crafters vying for the title of “Master Maker” and a $100,000 grand prize.

Tilghman, the youngest crafter on the show, was eliminated in the Dec. 9 episode after surviving four rounds of cuts. Justine Silva, from Andover, Massachusetts, took home the title in the season finale on Dec. 11.

“You can’t take the eliminations too hard because everyone is so talented,” Tilghman said. “It didn’t discourage me, because I was happy making it as far as I made it – considering my age and the experience I had compared to everyone else. I was just happy to be part of the experience.”

Learning lessons

Tilghman said the experience taught him a lot – including woodworking techniques from Jimmy DiResta, a master woodworker, along with different tips and tricks from the other makers, and a group of art department union workers that were helpers.

“I learned a lot from them and I have been wanting to do set design like the art department people were doing,” Tilghman said. “I had no clue what that job even was until I met them. I came back home knowing what that was and how to research it – that’s another good thing that came out of it."

Tilghman said being on the show gave him not only credibility, but the desire to inspire other people.

“You have a whole TV show not only just showing what I can do with my hands, but also who I am as a person,” Tilghman said. “I’ve already had people telling me I had inspired them, which is crazy good. That is beyond what I ever thought I could do."

Cheryl Owens is a reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Miss. Email cowens@themeridianstar.com.

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