OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - There’s not many things capable of snatching the smile from Bode Westerhoff’s face. But bullying does.
“I think bullying is probably the worst thing in the world,” says nine-year-old Bode, who has been bullied for years. “It feels like someone has a hammer and basically threw it at your back.”
The fourth grader from Marin County says he dreamt of Martin Luther King Jr. and recalled on what King was able to do during his fight for civil rights. Backed by a belief that “kindness is cool,” Bode too has a dream that he can create a dialogue capable of positively influencing bullying all around the world.
It was day one of kindergarten when he first experienced the pain of bulling’s receiving end. And often the ache he felt then was expressed by lying face-down on his bed, crying. It’s was painful. He struggled. And so he included his parents in his stress and asked them for help.
“He would come home visibly upset and crying and want to tell me what happened at a particular incident or a series of incidents,” says Stacey Printz, Bode’s mom. “There were days where he didn't want to go to school because of it.”
Because, to Bode, who loves acting and playing the drums, the age-old expression that ends with “words will never hurt me” isn’t true. And because of the hurtful words, he’s sometimes scared to go to school.
Printz thought as Bode and the kids in his class grew up, the teasing would subside. But it didn’t. And so she addressed Bode, asking how they could flip this into something positive by taking back power.
In the midst of facing a fear head on, an idea was born. Bode decided to create t-shirts.
“Think of it, ‘what do you have to wear every day?’ A shirt,” says Bode. “I thought that it would be brave and bold to not be a bully.”
Within the shirt’s anti-bullying message and statement on kindness being cool, there’s a nod to forgiveness and transformation. Right in the center there’s skull wearing aviator sunglasses in the middle. The skull represents a former bully that discovered the harm it does to people. The image depicts a bully who’s now nice.
It has on pink head phones that represent friendship, love and hope. The shirt also sports (hash) #KindnessIsCool.
But Bode wanted to do more than just wear the shirt. The idea was formed when last October’s North Bay wildfires were devastating loads of land and structures. Bode decided to sell his shirts and donate 100 percent of the proceeds to Dunbar Elementary School in Glen Ellen, which lost its playground and outdoor theater to the flames.
Bode raised nearly $2,000 dollars. Again, he wanted more. He’s now spoken at four assemblies and went to Dunbar to speak to the third, fourth and fifth graders. His message is firm and direct: “Don’t let the bullies push you down.”
In his young eyes, there is a wisdom from lessons you wish he never had to learn.
“If you really need to cry, don't cry right in front of them,” Bode says. “Go away from them and then cry, because if the bullies see you acting sad they will think, ‘oh, this really hurts them,’ and they will do it again.
“And that is not cool.”