Taking a stand against bullies
By Blake Belden, staff writer
Jan 9, 2015, 15:56
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The front cover for The Defenders: Bully Patrol is an illustration of the real life kids who the book’s characters are based upon. (Back row from left to right: Dylan Carter, Colby Whittaker, Jalen Tabb. Front: Nate Ziegenfuss).
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — William Carter remembers the devastating moment when he first found out that his little brother had the most severe form of muscular dystrophy. He was 14 and his brother, Rob, was 10.
“My brother had struggled with everything that he did [growing up]. He wasn’t as strong as other kids. I mean he tried so hard, but he just couldn’t do it. ... He got made fun of, and [I did] my fair share of defending. And this went on for pretty much all of my brother’s youth. He tried so hard to do everything, but he just couldn’t do it,” William said.
He remembers how cool Rob acted after receiving the news, actually calling it a relief that the source of his inhibitions was something beyond his physical control, and that after so much mental anguish from failing to be like everyone else he finally had a reason why.
William also remembers how his brother fought to live to the age of 29 even though he was told he wouldn’t live to be 20.
William, who now lives with his family in Colonial Heights, said that the story of his brother’s struggles is just one of many motivators behind his newly published anti-bullying book.
“That’s something that inspired me, his life, to see what he went through. And I really don’t want to see any kid for that matter be broken down to the point that they’ve given up on themselves. And my brother did actually give up on himself. He went through that for so long,” Carter said.
“The Defenders: Bully Patrol” was published by Brandylane Publishing Inc. in September, where William penned the inaugural story in what will become an ongoing anti-bullying series with the help of his wife, Monika.
The story centers around two brothers, Tommy and Matthew, and when Matthew starts getting picked on after his first day of kindergarten, he needs a group of defenders to stand up against the bullies.
William and Monika came up for the idea after their son, Dylan, and a group of friends from school decided to call themselves The Defenders and stand up for bullied students in Colonial Heights.
“So I’m hearing these stories here and there. Then one day I just decided, you know what, I need to share this message with everybody. These kids are actually taking it upon themselves and actually trying to make a difference,” William said.
The most prevalent forms of bullying are verbal and social rather than physical, and occur most often in school or on school grounds, according to stopbullying.gov, a federally managed website by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Although the statistics don’t include elementary school students, a nationwide study indicated that 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying at some point, however less than one third of those students actually notify an adult about being bullied, according to stopbullying.gov.
William said that a lot of kids feel uncomfortable about telling an adult because there is a stigma associated with telling on a bully.
“When it comes to somebody’s well-being, there is no such thing as a snitch or a tattletale. ... If you see somebody getting robbed out in public, you’re going to call the police. Same concept in school. You see somebody being abused in school, you call the police [or the higher authority],” William said, readily emphasizing the importance of reporting instances of bullying.
Therefore, William wants to use The Defenders series to champion a message for kids to be peacefully proactive about standing up together against bullying.
“It’s about you doing it together, not just one person. Too many times kids just sit around, especially in elementary school, just sit there and watch. And what we want to stop is the watching. We want people to bring this stuff to their attention, bring those situations to adults’ attention,” William said.
The book is intended for an audience from kindergarten to fifth grade, utilizing real life stories accompanied by realistic illustrations to make the story more relatable, a portrayal that William insisted was a necessary element for the story because kids need to understand the real nature and consequences of bullying.
Tad Butler, a longtime illustrator and storyboard artist from South Boston, Va., was chosen to translate the real life Defenders to the published page.
When the illustrations for the book were first shown to the Carters, Monika said that she teared up because of how realistic the images were.
BLAKE BELDEN/STAFF PHOTO The characters from The Defenders: Bully Patrol are based on real life students. Three of them are shown here. Left: Dylan Carter Right: Colby Whittaker Front: Nate Ziegenfuss
In addition to promoting kids to stand up against bullying, William also hopes the story will open up a stronger, more direct line of communication between kids and adults about the serious topic, emphasizing that several readers have told him their kids or grandkids have become openly engaged in the topic after reading the story.
Tim Hagood, the publicist for Brandylane Publishing Inc., said that the concept for “The Defenders” was an obvious fit for the company’s publishing goals.
“We saw value in the anti-bullying message promoted in the Carters’ story, along with the accessible way in which that message was shared through the perspective of younger characters,” Hagood said in an email. “With awareness increasing about the negative effects of all forms of bullying (e.g. cyber bullying, etc.), the timing for releasing The Defenders was natural.”
Hagood added that William’s personality was also a big player in the publication of the series.
“The infectious enthusiasm and conviction of Bill Carter, in particular, about the value of the story was another major factor in our decision to publish the book,” Hagood said.
“The Defenders: Bully Patrol” has already been read in some area schools including a classroom at Curtis Elementary in Chesterfield, as well as by James Winston, an author/teacher in Detroit whose students forfeited recess time to hear the entirety of the story in one day, William said.
Colby Whittaker, a Colonial Heights Middle School student whom one of the book’s characters is based on, said that he is glad to be a part of something that can act as a positive step toward getting rid of bullying.
“It’s about time somebody put a stop to that,” Whittaker said.
The Defenders anti-bullying campaign goes well beyond the page, including a Facebook page, a Twitter page, wristbands and badges in an effort to have a tangible impact on the real world.
“I know when I was a kid I thought it was really cool when I was in fourth grade when I was on safety patrol. And I’m hoping wearing a badge and looking out for each other might motivate [kids] to want to help out others,” William said.
William wants to continue to spread his book series across a national, and even international level, but he said his first goal is to get the book and some badges into every elementary school in Virginia.
For more information regarding “The Defenders: Bully Patrol” book and anti-bullying campaign, you can visit the website at www.thedefendersbp.com. The book is available to purchase online through both Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and has received unanimously positive reviews on both websites.
Carter, who has already written a second book to be published in the future, said that he would also personally distribute the book locally, if possible, to anyone interested.