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Why I Started Kids Empowered

Posted on October 25, 2010


Lately, bullying has been in the news everywhere due to the tragic loss of 5 boys who recently committed suicide. Boys are bullied for being gay, or for what other kids consider “different” and therefore are called “gay” and “faggot”. I have long felt that these two words and our lack of tolerance for boys not fitting into the “man” box, are the most dangerous words and beliefs for boys. They crush a boy by telling him he is not good enough to be a man. The use of these words in an abusive way has been around since I was in high school and definitely impacted who I am today.


Many people think I must have been bullied or suffered from low self-esteem as a child. Fortunately, I did not have to deal with either, although I certainly had my share of “mean girl” interactions. There have been several life experiences that led me to create Kids Empowered. I will share with you a couple. When I was in graduate school I observed many of my female peers acting in ways that I thought one “left behind” in high school. As a side job I taught fitness for fifteen years and saw many women struggling with body image issues, weight issues and struggling with the idea that they needed to look a “certain way”.  


I started talking to my friends about the idea of helping girls feel good about themselves so they didn’t have to struggle with these issues as adult women. Little did I know I was planting seeds that would later turn into my life’s work.


After graduate school I worked at a sporting goods/toy company as a Marketing and Product Manager. There I saw sexual harassment as well as women who did not use their voice to speak up. When I moved to Michigan I started my own business. I still was doing fitness as a side job and was teaching a class when a mom spoke to me about her worries with her middle school daughter. I mentioned to her that for several years, I had been thinking about a program to help girls be empowered. The mom asked if I would try it if she organized a group of girls. I put together a week long day camp that addressed self-esteem, fitness, nutrition, being safe and body image. At the end of the week Girls Empowered was launched.


Soon after, I started receiving calls about “mean girl” interactions. We started offering programs to address this problem and soon found that the issues of bullying and meanness were pervasive in our culture. At this point, we started developing a program to train schools to address these issues. Soon after, Boys Empowered was created because I wanted my own son’s to have these valuable tools and programs. Plus I saw that the world is very unfriendly to boys.


In retrospect, I think the seeds of Kids Empowered were planted long before graduate school. A few years ago I was speaking at a national conference on relational aggression and talking about the importance of the bystander speaking up to decrease bullying. A parent brought up the fear of her child standing up for someone and then having the bully pick on her.  


At that moment, some high school memories came flooding back. I had moved from a very small town my sophomore year to a new high school with 550 kids in our class. I was very quiet and shy, often this is the girl l I speak about that has her hair covering her face and mumbles. There was a boy in one of my classes that I sat next to. He was picked on relentlessly from the four boys that sat behind us. They would call him gay and fag. They threw spit balls at him and drew obscene pictures and taped them to his back. Sometimes the rest of the class laughed. I would shake and get a stomach ache. But one day, I couldn’t take it anymore, I stood up and looked at the four boys and told them they were the ones who had the problems and questioned why they were they so focused on him. So guess who they picked on? Me.


They threw spit balls at me, mocked me and threatened me. It went on for the rest of the school year. But, all I can say is that was the day that I found my voice. That was the day I discovered my strength. Every time they TRIED to bully me I thought to myself; “go ahead, I can handle this, leave the other boy alone.”  Did I feel scared? Absolutely. All I knew was that it was NOT ok for those boys to treat this boy in that way and that it was going to stop. At the end of the year the picked on boy thanked me and told me it was the nicest thing anybody had ever done for him. I often wonder about him, if he made it through ok. I had no idea that this would become my life’s work, standing for those who can’t stand for themselves. I wish I could have been there for those 5 boys that committed suicide. I can only hope that if my sons ever get in that situation that someone will be there for them. Someone who is willing do to the right thing.


Kids Empowered is working hard to empower the bystander to speak up by giving them the skills, confidence, and motivation, but we need people to step up and get the programs in the schools. Parents need to understand that speaking up for someone shows your character, builds confidence, and gives your child a voice. This is one of the best gifts we can give our children—the support and skills for standing up for others. It will help them in defining who they are and where they want to go in life.  
See CNN's programs on bullying »
Read an adult's story of being bullied as a child »

Kimber Bishop-Yanke, M.I.M., is the founder of Kids Empowered and the author of this blog.

Kimber trains nationally and internationally on bully-proofing your children. Kimber develops curriculum and leads programs for kids, parents, and professionals on how to build confidence and self-esteem, develop socials skills and emotional intelligence, and dealing with unfriendly friends, mean-spirited behaviors, relational aggression, and bullying. As a volunteer Kimber organizes Kids Against Hunger packagings and is the Chair of Fundraising for Kenya Relief. She has also taken her program to Israel where she teaches her program to Palestinian and Israeli counselors and kids at a camp that brings children together for reconciliation.

Email Kimber »

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