The KOKO and Friends Project - A Mother's Story
It's easy to turn deaf ears and blind eyes to the suffering of people we don’t know personally. It’s easy to throw money at a problem and feel justified by saying, “At least I did something.” It’s easy to feel sorry for the misfortune of others–that is, until it comes to your house and knocks on your door. Then, it’s in-your-face and personal.
I heard stories about children committing suicide due to peer-on-peer bullying and thought, “That’s horrible! Somebody ought to do something.” But when I walked in on my daughter about to swallow a handful of pills because the pain of dealing with bullying at school became too much for her to bear, my entire world turned upside down! I had a problem money could not fix, connections could not make go away, and no one else’s world stopped turning but mine. Suddenly, I became that “somebody” who had to do something because now...IT'S MY CHILD!
After crying with and for my daughter, I realized I had to find a solution. I had to save my daughter! I searched for kid-friendly books and resources on bullying--to no avail. Bullying is real and it happens every day in every school setting across this nation. Surely, I was not the only parent facing this problem. There was nothing to show me how to help my child! It was on me to do something.
Addressing my daughter’s suicide attempts forced me to detach myself emotionally and invehhstigate the problem from a systems perspective. I looked at her school as a black box and focused only on the input and output. The variables in the “system” that directly (and adversely) impacted my daughter were the other students, teachers, and administrators in her learning environment. The “system” should have produced a well-adjusted smarter child. Instead, I received a suicidal child who could not keep up academically because of the torment she endured at the hands of insensitive students and a teacher who should have chosen another vocation.
I discovered that some children come to school angry and pick on any child who looks and acts the most defenseless. On the other end, some students come to school as if they are superior to other children, for whatever reason. Then, there are the bystanders who either side with the bullies or victims...or remain silent. Each child plays a role and needs to grasp the concepts of empathy and compassion.
When I brought the bullying to her teacher and principal's attention, I was told, “Kids will be kids. She just needs to develop a thicker skin.” They did absolutely nothing to remedy the situation and she was labeled a “snitch” by her classmates, which only made matters worse. She had no friends because the other kids feared befriending her would make them targets for bullying. In reality, victims rarely have friends, which only adds to their feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness.
I eventually realized all these kids need help. One of her tormentor’s father had been publicly arrested and he was embarrassed and angry. One of the mean girls was dealing with her own identity crisis. They chose to lash out at my daughter because of her skin tone. Many bystanders went along with the bullying to "fit in" and for group acceptance.
It became glaringly obvious that most of these children were never taught the Golden Rule—"Treat others the way you want them to treat you!" No one explained to them the power of words and that what they say and do to a child who is already hurting could be the proverbial straw "that broke the camel’s back.” They simply lacked a moral compass!
The Koko and Friends Project became my love mission for my daughter and her peers...to fill this void! My hope is to be a positive catalyst for change for generations to come. Imparting empathy and compassion are the goals behind everything we produce.
"Our objective is to shine a light on the truth and create the means to explore it, expose it, and liberate all children to become more powerful in their choices."
Meet Clara Denise West, Ph.D.
Meet Charla Jaye