Editor’s note: This article is underwritten by Plexpod — a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes — but was independently produced by Startland News.
A creative spirit, Damika Clay recalled a white sweatshirt on which she loved to write and draw designs. The same item she proudly made and wore as her own, however, was also a subject of torment from other kids at school, she shared.
“I struggled with bullying a lot when I was younger; it started with words and escalated,” Clay said, revealing that verbal harassment became physical. “A lot of it was centered around my looks.”
Clay’s grandmother convinced her to express her painful experiences through storytelling. She began creating a presentation on Google Slides, but put the project on pause after her grandmother passed away in 2015.
Five years later — a Truman High School graduate, now in college at University of Missouri-Kansas City and bully-free — Clay was cleaning out her Google Slides folder when she stumbled across her story.
“I almost deleted it, but I was like, ‘This is kind of cool. It’s colorful. It’s fun. I’m going to go for it,’” Clay shared, noting that she knew she wanted to make it more than a Slides presentation.
Her story became the children’s book, “Don’t Be The Stick Figure Bully.”
Although the illustrations within the book are made using simple lines and shapes, the story contains heavy and important messages about bullying. It’s a relatable sentiment for many children today, Clay said.
“Right before my book went into printing, I was at the mall and heard a little kid talking to his mom,” Clay recalled. “He said he had to have a polo for school, or else the other kids would make fun of him. He looked to be around the same age as when I had my white sweatshirt.
“To hear him say that, it kind of took me back for a minute,” she continued. “Even though I’m 20 years old, I still feel those effects of bullying from when I was 10, 12, 15. I can still feel it all.”
“Don’t Be The Stick Figure Bully” debuted in September and can be purchased for $15 on Clay’s website.
Speak up and stay colorful
A notable takeaway Clay hopes readers learn from her book: The stick figure who bullied is just as bad as the stick figure who watched.
“If you see someone getting bullied, speak up,” Clay said, acknowledging that it can make all the difference to let people know they are not alone.
“… School may not be in-person [right now because of COVID-19], but we still see people bullying online [and] over text messages; people bullying the homeless; people bullying in the workplace,” she continued. “Bullying is everywhere, whether you’re in school or not. So speak up and do what you can.”
Click here to read how another Kansas City teen overcame bullying.
The feedback Clay has received so far on her book has been very positive, she shared — adding that parents have told her it is a simplistic and honest way to explain bullying to their children.
Pursuing a degree in business administration and marketing at UMKC, Clay plans to enter Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and start her own business, she said, as well as continuing to speak out against bullying.
“I would like to be able to do demonstrations [on my book],” Clay said. “I know that is not possible at the moment because of the pandemic. But once I’m able to go into classrooms, I would love to share my experience and share what Stick Figure Bully is all about with students of all ages.”
No one should have to go through the anxiety and depression that often comes from bullying experiences, Clay said. Although she acknowledges her past as trauma, Clay herself wouldn’t change anything, she said.
“Those experiences made me who I am today, and I am stronger because of them,” Clay shared. “My best advice [for kids going through bullying] is to stay colorful and fun — no matter what.”
Click here to purchase “Don’t Be The Stick Figure Bully.”