In schools, comic-cons, communities, and online, Pop Culture Hero Coalition’s team is standing up for kids who are bullied, providing support, resources, strategies, and ongoing help.
Here are some of our many stories:
Pop Culture Hero Coalition sponsors work free of charge to schools that can’t afford programs, including Cameron Elementary School in West Humboldt Park, one of the poorest parts of Chicago. It’s an area besieged by gangs, violent crime, and poverty. At Cameron, I was using Star Wars in a lesson about the difference between bullying & social conflict: when someone is being bullied, you band together like Jedis to protect each other. Later, 7 year-old Jada* recounted how she told the Principal that she was being bullied on her walk home each day. You know what the Principal did? He started walking her home himself, to protect her.
Stories hit home with people of all ages, and even the school Principal in one of the country’s roughest neighborhoods understands the power that comes from being a real-life Jedi.
We help kids begin to heal...
Dr. Janina Scarlet: I will never forget Lorena,* a teenage girl I was working with who was a survivor of sexual assault. Lorena’s parents struggled to understand why 6 months after the assault she was still struggling. This girl was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV Show. Together we watched an episode where Buffy is brought back to life and struggles with trauma. At one point Buffy tells her friend, Spike, "Everything hurts...every moment hurts." Lorena told me that watching that episode was the first time she fully understood the impact of her trauma. She was able to share the episode with her parents, who were able to then better understand the impact of the trauma and provide Lorena with the support she needed.
And open up about their experiences...
Dr. Janina Scarlet: A few years ago I was working with Anita,* a 15 year old girl who struggled with depression, an eating disorder, and self-injury (cutting). She was a big fan of TV Show Veronica Mars. When asked what Veronica would do in this situation, Anita said that Veronica would speak out. In connecting with her favorite hero, Anita was able to make a speech in front of her class about her struggles and invited others to reach out to her if they struggled with these issues as well. The effect of this was unlike either one of us imagined -- students were so inspired by her talk. They told Anita how inspired they were by her, and they began openly sharing their own experiences, giving each other compassion, and getting on the road to healing.
We direct them to ongoing mental health support...
At NYCC, a seventeen-year-old girl named Sophia* approached Carrie Goldman and told Carrie that she was suffering from severe depression as a result of relationship problems with peers. Sophia was also struggling with an unhealthy romantic relationship. Carrie gave Sophia her personal contact information and promised that she would help Sophia find a therapist. The next day, Sophia’s mom contacted Carrie to say how much it meant to her that Carrie spent time listening to her daughter and offering assistance. Carrie connected Sophia and her mom with a highly regarded adolescent psychologist based in New York, where Sophia’s family lives.
And intervene in bullying situations that previously seemed hopeless.
After actor Joe Gatto was featured on one of the Coalition’s End Bullying Panels, a 13-year-old girl named Cindy* sent him a tweet asking for help with a bullying situation. Joe put Cindy in touch with Carrie Goldman. Taking the conversation into a private arena, Carrie reached out to Cindy and learned that she was being badly bullied at school, but her parents didn’t believe her. Carrie sent Cindy several worksheets to help her describe the specifics of the bullying. Cindy was able to approach her parents and present them with clear, organized information, at which point they agreed that she was indeed being bullied, and they went to the school to get help.
We work with onscreen heroes to bring validation and self-esteem...
Superhero stories, Batman in particular, have been my go-to source of personal inspiration since I entered the hub of anxiety abuse known as high school. Between constant harassment for my ‘boisterously brainy’ personality and my younger brother getting outright bullied for his Asperger’s Syndrome, I was in need of a way to connect with someone who has been in a similar situation without having to poke into my friends’ private lives.
It took my very own Bruce Wayne, alongside a small army of comic book enthusiasts, introducing me to the expansive world of DC Comics for me to find such examples. I had dabbled in the subject before thanks to Batman: The Animated Series reruns, but seeing just how well situations of bullying/feeling inadequate were handled and resolved in the panels of printed comics made me realize how this related to my own crisis. It has since inspired me to embrace who I am, what I like, and how I express both.
I couldn’t be happier with myself, all thanks to those people wearing tights on the shelves of comic shops.
And help kids build courage, starting at an early age...
My daughter is in kindergarten. She's very girly but mixes her love for The Avengers into her wardrobe as much as she can. It's a fun mix, but she's already been confronted with the "Iron Man is for boys" sort of nonsense. Meanwhile I see successful women defending their love of comic books and redefining what's acceptable and cool. Hopefully, by the time she's a woman, she can enjoy superheroes as much as I still do and not feel the need to hide it. Even if it isn't comics, then whatever she's passionate about.
Dr. Letamendi, your voice is an amazing superpower - so keep fighting the good fight and making it look effortless.
Batman symbolizes hope for me. I struggle with bipolar disorder and the lack of consistency in my mood can get really frustrating at times. It's nice to watch/play Batman and know that there will always be some form of consistency there. Batman will face difficulties but he will always overcome them. He will come back from the brink of defeat armed with knowledge that can only come from failure.
There's always hope in Batman, and it's hope that seems hardest to hold onto when depression shrouds everything in darkness.
And inspiring them to live their dreams.
Hi, Dr. Letamendi,
I wasn't sure if Psychology was what I really wanted to study and being so close to graduation was making me nervous. But not anymore! Listening to you applying your knowledge to a subject you really love is so inspiring to me. Being in college made me develop a sort of tunnel vision in terms of my future, but you've helped remind me that I have a world of possibility ahead of me. I want to thank you for giving me hope.
We’re teaching kids to stand up for each other...
Matt Langdon: A middle school asked me to come in because the year before they'd had an end of year celebration at a public park that ended with a fist fight between two seventh grade girls that attracted an audience of 100 other students. The administration were embarrassed and wondered why the expensive program they'd been bringing had failed them.
I ran a program for incoming sixth graders that September on their third day of school. It taught the ideas of being the hero of your own story and taking action for others to be a hero in the world around you. At one point I encouraged kids to intervene in bullying by saying something like, "This is my school too and I don't tolerate bullying".
The following week, there was an altercation on the buses after school with a large eighth grade girl intimidating another. One of the sixth grade girls walked right up to her and said, "This is my school too and that's not okay!" The eighth grader backed down and apologized to her victim. Not only was this sixth grader confident in the power of bystanders, the eighth grader was the same girl who started the fight the previous year that resulted in me coming to the school.
Standing to make their world better...
Matt Langdon: I challenged the students to consider how they could change their school. I asked them to choose something they were unhappy about and start thinking about how they could create change by themselves. It was eye-opening to hear the issues kids were most concerned about: trash, swearing, gossiping, vandalism in bathrooms, and even the strict dress code for teachers.
My statement to the students was that the only way to create lasting change in the school would come through the student body. The principal and teachers could only do so much. I was doing this activity in one classroom at a time. During the second hour, the teacher from the first hour came in to tell me that three of her students had asked permission to leave to meet with the principal about their idea. They explained their plan for reducing litter in the school. True student action.
And building empathy, compassion and strategies for change.
Matt Langdon: At another middle school, I talked to the eighth grade class in March about the unusual position they were in as experts in middle school, but knowing they were about to enter the new and scary world of high school. I asked them to think back to their first few days of middle school (I had also spoken with them that year) and how nervous they were. Then I asked them consider the fifth graders around the town who were worrying about entering the new and scary world of middle school. As an exercise I asked them to create a "rules for surviving middle school" as they were currently the world's leading experts in surviving that particular middle school. The idea was that they were distilling their knowledge -- to make the hero's journey of middle school less scary and more worthwhile.
The next week, three of the students, unprovoked, took their list to their old elementary school and gave a presentation at an assembly to the fifth graders, to encourage them. This alleviated fears for the fifth graders, who experienced greater solidarity and less bullying as they graduated to middle school.
With your partnership, this is only the beginning.
*not real names