OLATHE, Kan. --The issue of bullying is usually never far from the center of public consciousness anymore. And this spring it's been back in national focus with the release of a powerful and provocative documentary, Bully. Now there's a new initiative to challenge and empower children and teenagers to become part of the solution to end bullying -- an initiative created by this week's FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.
"Really, a bully can be anyone," Mikaela Carson tells a large group of elementary school kids gathered in front of her. "It doesn't have to be a big, scary person."
It wasn't that long ago that Mikaela, a poised young woman with the crown and the sash talking to the kids at Black Bob Elementary School in Olathe about bullying, was a student here herself -- when classmates she thought were friends began bullying her.
"And while I still had my friends and while I was still happy with them, it still hurt because I was being left out," Mikaela reveals to the Black Bob students. Mikaela endured social bullying for years, from grade school into high school at Shawnee Mission South in Overland Park, Kan. But she persevered and didn't let the bullies defeat her. And when Mikaela decided to enter the pageant world, ending bullying became her platform -- her cause.
"In November, I started a grass roots anti-bullying initiative called ABLE, Anti-Bullying Lifelines and Education," says Mikaela. "It's part educational, part motivational speech to try to encourage students to take care with their actions and try to reach out to others who are being bullied."
As the reigning Miss Kansas Teen America, Mikaela now does presentations at elementary and middle schools, delivering an informed, positive message and asking students to sign her ABLE pledge to seal the deal.
"Now, if you sign the pledge," Mikaela tells the Black Bob students, "then you are agreeing to try to reduce bullying by not being a bully but also to reach out to people you see who are being impacted by bullying and to educate others as to the right way to behave. On how to be respectful. On how to be kind."
"She is just one of those kids that is one in a million," says Lisa Forbes, Mikaela's pageant coach.
Forbes had a long and successful pageant career herself. She says it's common for pageant contestants to take on a cause as a platform but Mikaela stands out.
"Many of the girls when they compete in pageants say, 'I'm going to do it,' or make a plan and have a vision but it never really happens unless they win," says Forbes. "The biggest difference with Mikaela is that she set her mind to something. She made her own organization. And she followed through with it way before the pageant ever happened. And she's going to continue to do it even though the national crown didn't happen (at the Miss Teen America pageant this spring.) She made the top ten. And she's opened so many doors for so many young women including herself."
Mikaela has emerged from her own nightmare of being bullied as a strong, confident young woman eager for new opportunities and challenges to test her talents and grow in positive ways.
Pageants are one way but Mikaela has been in the spotlight in the performing arts, too. She sang with top choirs at Shawnee Mission South High School and starred in South High Rep Theater productions. And Mikaela really stepped out last year, earning her way onto The Colts, an elite national youth drum and bugle corps group based in Iowa that toured the country performing all summer in dozens of shows. She'll do it again this summer.
"It's so incredible intense," says Mikaela of the pace and demands of being in The Colts. "The people there are so incredibly dedicated. It can get really hard but when you are that focused, the bond you make with the people there is indescribable."
People who would always be supportive and would not tolerate bullying -- in themselves or in others.
Mikaela has a website for her ABLE anti-bullying project where people can get a copy of the ABLE pledge to be part of the solution to end bullying. The URL is http://www.able-antibullying.org/. Meantime, Mikaela has big plans for ABLE. She's going to Lindenwood University in suburban St. Louis this fall to major in Non-Profit Administration. Her goal is to make ABLE a national organization, and run it, to spread the anti-bullying message to kids and adults across the country.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.
Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.