Brother Jesse Muhammad: What have been your two most painful experiences with being bullied? How did you overcome it?
Sonya Jah Muhammad (SM): I was teased about having a wide nose and big lips. I can remember being told that my lips were so big that I could pull them over my head and make a skull cap or that I could flip my lips inside out and make a float. I think the worst of the big lips jokes that impacted me the worse was the one where a boy told me I looked like a clown and shouldn’t wear lipstick. Believe it or not I have never worn lipstick because somehow that has always been a theme in my head when I look at myself with it on. I don’t think I ever really overcame it. I just grew out of it and stopped paying so much attention to the fact that my lips were big. I just accepted the fact that my lips are the way they are supposed to be and I am not changing them for no one. So if someone doesn’t like them then my suggestion to them would be “look the other way.”
BJ: Bullying has been around for a long time. Why do you think all of a sudden it has become a trending topic?
SM: Yes, bullying is nothing new and has always been an issue in all communities all over the world. I think it’s a trending topic because it is becoming the new thing to do for children who feel like they have no one to talk to or turn to about what’s happening to them at home or school. Some children even feel that if they tell someone, nothing will be done to stop the torment or tormentors. Bullycide has become a norm for our children to escape their tormenters and that is not acceptable. I think that parents, teachers, all school staff, and city officials are now being forced to take a more urgent approach to bullying. We all have the responsibility to put our heads together to come up with ways and solutions to end this bullying crisis that is spawning out of control with our tween/teens.
BJ: You released an anti-bullying children’s book titled Adventures of Zolie “Miss Chit Chat” Zi. What gave birth to these characters and this concept?
SM: I wrote the book for my niece Sariah Martin who is the face of Zolie Zi. Sariah has a very strong lisp and I got the notion that at some point she would have to face bullies because of her speech impediment. I wanted to address the problem she may face with any bully through Zolie Zi’s book. My hope is that Zolie’s book would provide Sariah with the necessary tools to face her bullies in the correct manner. The other characters just came from ideas that I had in my head of what I wanted Zolie’s friends to be like and their facial features are taken from my other nieces and my little cousin J’Sunn.
BJ: What unique perspective and advice is your book giving to young readers on how to deal with bullying?
SM: The unique perspective is the perception of tattling being a bad thing. Zolie has to discover that tattling is not a bad thing especially when you are being bullied. Zolie wants children to understand that there is power in their voice and that silence is NEVER an option. Children get to see how Zolie finally discovers just how powerful her own voice is when she decides to tell someone that she is being bullied.
BJ: What solutions do you offer parents and schools in defusing the impact of bullying?
SM: Well, I really don’t think there is just one particular solution to stop children from bullying other children. I think the first step would be helping our children understand what a bully is by definition. Once they understand what a bully is then they can know how to identify it if they are in fact being bullied or even if they are a bully. I can think of a starter solution for schools like making mandatory courses available on bullying prevention and ways to recognize if a student is being bullied to parents, faculty and staff including the principal. This type of training would be of some assistance to them should they start to recognize outrageous behavior patterns in the students in the classroom or on playgrounds. Another thought would be surveying the students to ask them of signs that teachers, parents and trusted adults could easily identify as bullying areas and signs of bullying for their particular school.
BJ: A lot of young people have started committing suicide due to bullying. Do you think that’s the best way to handle the pressure?
SM: Bullycide is a horrible exit strategy for children but unfortunately for some it is the only option. Bullying for a lot of children doesn’t just happen at school but it also happens at home with parents or even siblings and so it seems there is no escape from it. As you know, everyone handles pressures in different ways. It’s like a hot pot on the stove with the wrong size lid on it, it blows off. I think that if children had a better way to handle pressure like someone to talk to or an outlet to voice their concerns and fears then they wouldn’t have to handle their pressure in the way they have been handling it. I don’t think anyone just wants to commit bullycide willingly. Bullycide seems to become the only option for some when they feel there is no escape from their tormentors and that is truly sad.
BJ: I read that you’re a motivational speaker. When you are standing before young audiences, what is the essence of your message?
SM: The essence of my message to tweens/teens is to know, understand and believe that there is POWER in their voice. I want them to understand that all it takes is one choice and one thought to change their whole life around to stop anything that they thought they had no power or control over. Everything starts and Stops with you. “You have the power. Your voice counts!!” is the overall message that I want them to embed within their minds when they walk away from hearing me speak with them.
BJ: Thank You!
(To get a copy of "The Adventures of Zolie "Miss Chit Chat" Zi" visit the official website http://www.zoliezi.com/. Follow on Twitter @ZolieZi)