Now Or Never

She was bullied, now she's a superhero

When nine-year-old Michelle Luis was bullied at school, mom Daniela knew she had to help. She sent out the signal to the Superhero Project and their 'League of Extraordinary Artists' who volunteer to draw children who are ill or living with special needs as the superheroes of their imaginations.

When Michelle Luis needed a boost, it was her mom and a 'League of Extraordinary Artists' to the rescue

Daniela Luis cuddles her nine-year-old daughter Michelle, who is holding a colourful poster with the words 'The Incredible Michelle,' and 'Be Kind.' On the poster, a cartoon superhero version of Michelle is floating in the air with a cape and sparkly microphone as fireworks explode.
Daniela and Michelle Luis are delighted with 'The Incredible Michelle' poster created by Manilla-based volunteer artist Jeanne Pido. (Ify Chiwetelu/CBC)

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."

A blue poster with the words 'The Incredible Michelle' and 'Be Kind' written above a floating cartoon drawing of a nine year old girl. She is wearing a gold cape, gloves and tank top with a tie-dyed onesie underneath. She floats in the sky holding a sliver microphone, flanked by her sidekicks, two large dogs.
Michelle is pictured as a superhero whose superpower is her voice and slogan is 'Be Kind.' The poster was based on an interview with Michelle about her strengths. (Jeanne Pido/ Superhero Project)

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.

A black and white drawing of a middle aged woman with curly dark hair, light eyes and a big smile.
Lisa Kollins, drawn here by artist Marietta Delene, founded the Superhero Project in 2017. Since then the non-profit organization has created nearly 1,000 posters for kids and their families with the help of more than 450 artists. (Marietta Delene/Superhero Project)

"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.