She was bullied, now she's a superhero
When Michelle Luis needed a boost, it was her mom and a 'League of Extraordinary Artists' to the rescue
Nine-year-old Michelle Luis had been waiting for this moment for weeks.
"Ready?" asks her mom, Daniela Luis, as she tears open the package.
"I'm ready! I'm ready!" says Michelle as she slides out a poster, gasps, blushes and bursts into a series of OMGs.
Clutched in her pink polished fingertips, The Incredible Michelle, a drawing of herself as a superhero, beams back at her.
"I love superheroes," says Michelle, "to become one in a picture, it's exciting."
WATCH | Michelle sees her poster for the first time
The poster was sent to Michelle by the Superhero Project, a charitable organization that interviews kids who are sick or who live with disabilities, about their strengths. The interview is then sent to artists who draw the child as the superhero they described.
Daniela saw another parent post about the project in an online support group for parents of children with disabilities.
She knew her daughter needed a boost. Michelle, who lives with cerebral palsy and uses mobility aids, had been bullied by kids at school. She had hidden it from her mother for months.
"She went through a tough time," says Daniela. "It got to the point that she would pretend to be sick in the morning so …she didn't need to go to school."
Daniela says her school offered good support to Michelle, but that Daniela could see Michelle's self-confidence was low.
"It breaks your heart as a mom, seeing your child sad," says Daniela. "We would have, like, conversations about her strengths because she has a lot … and we will focus on that."
Daniela contacted Lisa Kollins, founder and executive director of the Superhero Project. Since Kollins started it in 2017, more than 400 artists have volunteered to create nearly one thousand superheroes for children and teens around the world — at no charge.
"Too often kids with disabilities or serious illnesses are sidelined," says Kollins. "To allow themselves to see and be seen as powerful, as beautiful, and as contributors to our communities, that's really important."
In their interviews with Kollins, kids have the chance to explain who they are beyond their diagnoses. They talk about what's important to them, what they love to do, and how they want to make a difference in the world.
Michelle told Kollins she loved to sing and wanted to use her voice as her superpower to stand up to bullies. The illustration, done by Manilla-based graphic designer and freelance illustrator Jeanne Pido, portrays The Incredible Michelle with a sparkly microphone.
Kollins also put Michelle in touch with another non-profit called Hear Your Song, which helped her write an original anti-bullying song of which she's very proud.
WATCH | Michelle's song 'I'm just like you'
"I want to send the message to … stand up [to] bullies," says Michelle. "And maybe if the bullies hear it, for the bullies to stop bullying."
The poster is making a difference, too. Since receiving it, Daniela says Michelle has been "walking on the clouds," which makes sense when you consider the superhero in the poster floats in a sky full of fireworks.
Written by Bridget Forbes, with files from Ify Chiwetelu.