Madison School fourth-grader LaNiyah Bailey was recently honored with a Kids Rock Award for Best Author.
The Oct. 3 event, hosted by WGCI radio personality Demi Lobo, recognizes children who have made a positive difference in their communities and who have done exceptional work in athletics, the arts and other fields. Bailey was highlighted for the book she penned, “Not Fat Because I Wanna Be,” and her related anti-bullying work.
The 10-year-old Hinsdale resident began writing as therapy after experiencing bullying in her former school due to her weight.
“It doesn’t feel good to be bullied,” Bailey said, “and being a bully doesn’t make any sense. You wouldn’t want someone doing it to you.”
Like Bailey, the main character in the book, Jessica, has a medical condition that causes weight gain and her classmates and teacher treat her unkindly. In “Not Fat Because I Wanna Be,” Jessica follows the steps that Bailey advises for any student experiencing bullying: she tells a trusted adult and tells the bullies how their actions make her feel. In the end, Jessica and the bullies become friends.
“Sometimes people who bully are jealous or they just don’t know you,” Bailey explained. “You shouldn’t let it go to your head and you should stand up for yourself, but you have to be careful or you could become the bully.”
Bailey said her mother, LaToya White, was her biggest supporter, encouraging her writing and then doing extensive research to find the right illustrator for the book (Laura Pérez Ricaud) and the Australian publishing house that helped guide the development of a fictional take on Bailey’s story.
“Witnessing LaNiyah inspire, empower, and encourage children and adults around the globe shows me that I’ve done something right,” White said. “It was my only hope to empower her and to help raise her self-esteem at a time when it was low. I think she’s got it from here! I am very happy to see how LaNiyah has evolved.”
After the book was published, Bailey participated in a number of radio and TV interviews, including a guest spot on Ricki Lake. Bailey was asked to help provide encouragement to a woman who had become a recluse after years of bullying. Bailey recalled telling the woman she was beautiful and not to be afraid.
“I told her that if someone judges you, act like it’s air — just go right through it,” she said.
Bailey has also made appearances at events for authors, meeting Taye Diggs, Common, Tyra Banks and Disney television characters. She also received a letter of praise from first lady Michelle Obama. Most recently, Bailey traveled to Korea, where her book is being used in teachers’ lesson plans. In her travels, Bailey says the message she hears most often is to “keep up the good work” and encouragement to continue making a positive change.
Bailey’s teacher at Madison School, Sheryl Cebula, continues to share that encouragement at school and sees Bailey having a positive effect on her classmates.
“Having LaNiyah in class and hearing her share about her experiences is uplifting and inspirational to us all because she has helped us remind that each person can make a difference in the lives of others,” Cebula said.
Bailey also helped to create an activity and coloring book featuring Jessica and her sidekick Diva Pup, named for Bailey’s dog Diva. Diva Pup can sense when someone is being bullied and the team goes to the rescue to provide strategies to help the victim feel safe.
“They try to help,” Bailey said, “but they don’t make everyone get along. They just try to find out why it’s happening and stop the bullying.”
Bailey said while she wants to be an author on the side, she has her sights set on being a lawyer or FBI agent. She is focused on school and her interests such as basketball, soccer and art, as well as the next project for her anti-bullying work — an app for students and schools that incorporates lessons on bullying with games that have information focused on friendship and positive messages
Madison School Principal Melinda McMahon said she believes there may be other opportunities to share those messages, as well.
“I plan to have LaNiyah offer our younger students the skills to instill confidence in their response to others who do not speak respectfully,” McMahon said.
For more information about Bailey and her anti-bullying advocacy work, visit –www.notfatbecauseiwannabe.com.