One of the biggest fears for any parent is for their child to come home and reveal they are a victim of bullying. All too often, parents are unaware that their child is being verbally and/or physically abused, pushed around, ostracized, or made to feel like their lives are worth nothing. With the increased number of recorded videos of young children being tormented by or having to defend themselves against attacks from their peers, it’s hard to believe that your child WON’T become a victim of face-to-face or cyberbullying.
Just ask Dr. Clara Denise West about her daughter, Charla, who is now 25 years old. “Our journey began when Charla wanted to take enough pills so she wouldn’t have to wake up and go back to school.” At the tender age of eight, Charla saw suicide as the only way to get away from her tormentors. “I didn’t realize it was that bad until that moment,” states West. I immediately transferred her to another school, but the damage to her self-esteem was already done.”
“While trying to find something to help undo the emotional damage done to my child as a result of being bullied, I came to the stark realization that there was nothing out there to help young children survive in a hostile peer group setting. Everything focused on adults survivors of childhood abuse.” Dr. West realized it was her job to develop something to help her daughter not only survive, but thrive in an environment that is costing more and more children to kill themselves and each other.
Not knowing where to start, she challenged her daughter about her disdain for bugs – especially roaches. It quickly became clear that Charla hated roaches because her classmates told her THEY hated roaches. “That was my ‘aha!’ moment! She was basing her feeling about roaches on what other people’s opinions. I had to get Charla to find a reason to respect roaches by learning about their positive attributes. Hence, Koko was born. Koko is an acronym for ‘Keep on keeping on”, which is the whole message of perseverance. I wanted my daughter to understand that she could not allow what people say about her or to her make her give up on life. Koko means NEVER, EVER GIVE UP! Roaches are strong in that they can survive in even the most hostile environment.
West authored a series of Koko and Friends books using the rules of the game of basketball as the backdrop to teach life lessons such as empathy, compassion, integrity and just living in accordance with the Golden Rule. The point of each story is to teach children how important it is to stay true to yourself by making wise decisions and impacting those around you in a positive manner. Koko and Friends product line and franchise is a way to empower our youth and help them make the decisions that will pave the way for them to have a bright future.
Catch our brief interview with Dr. Clara Denise West below:
Why did you invest your time and resources into building the Koko and Friends project? I firmly believe that we, as a nation, have to move now to save our children. They are receiving too many wrong messages and too much adult information way too soon. They actually think that being cruel to each other is appropriate behavior. If I had buried my child due to a bully-related suicide, I would’ve walked away from everything. I would’ve felt like as a parent, which is my most important responsibility and job, I failed to protect my child. I made a commitment to God to do everything that I could do to make sure no other child or parent finds themselves in the position that my daughter and I were in. I fully intend to keep my end of the bargain, as God has kept His.
What would you say your is favorite part of the Koko and Friends program? I get excited knowing that I am making a positive impact on the lives of children for generations to come. At this point in my life, it’s all about leaving a legacy of goodness. On the back of all of the books, we always state that our objective is to shine the light on the truth and create a means to experience it, expose it and liberate all children to become more powerful in their choices.
I know that your products cover a lot of socially sensitive topics, but which book do you feel has had the best influence on younger children? I would have to say the first book – Koko and Friends: Born to Play – Destined to Win! I say this because kids need to know that they were born with a destiny to accomplish great things in life. They need to know they are not here on earth by accident, regardless to the circumstances of their birth. They need to know that their destiny is to BE A WINNER no matter what challenges they may face along the way. They were born winners.
What would you want families to take from your project and products? Bullying is more than just a family issue. It’s a problem that must be addressed within the context of the community. I, as a parent can do whatever I can do to safeguard my child, but negative influences are everywhere. Bullies and negative peers come in all races, from socio-economic backgrounds, and live in the best and worst neighborhoods. Parents really need to talk to their children – not just talk at them. They are not mini-adults; they are children who desperately need guidance and direction.They need to know they are irreplaceable and you will love them even if they make mistakes. Listen to your children. They really have a lot to tell you if you listen. Your child needs to know that you will do whatever it takes to make sure they feel safe and protected.
If you could give any advice to someone experiencing what you and your daughter went through, what would it be? There is a way out of that place called hopelessness. You don’t have to stay there. Everything that you hear is not true. You have to start speaking to yourself and even going to your secret place within yourself to cancel out the negative words others say to you. Your life is important and it will get better. Just keep on keeping on!
Ultimately, where do you want to see your organization grow to? I want to see Koko and Friends become an international phenomenon similar to Barney, Mickey Mouse, and other children’s characters that are out there. Our message will never change and our characters will never compromise on our core values. We will always adhere to the Golden Rule because that’s what it’s all about.
Koko and Friends is on a mission to get onto the shelves of Wal-Mart! If you would like to help, please vote here and check out the Koko and Friends websites below: