Second-graders at Plummer Elementary School in Southeast Washington are shouting out insults. In their school library.
This isn’t the meanest school in the city. It’s part of a visit from Rick Daniels, a local author who writes books as part of his relentless battle against bullying. These kids are learning what kinds of words can harm others, and they have a few of their own suggestions.
Daniels knows a lot about bullying. He’s 68 now, but when he was a growing up in the city’s Fort Totten neighborhood, he had a learning disability caused by lead poisoning. So he got made fun of quite a bit and hated going to school.
“Kids would pick on me because I couldn’t read or write too well,” Daniels told the children.
In 2014, his experiences inspired him to write the children’s book “Little Remy: The Little Boy Who Doesn’t Want to Go to School,” about a third-grader who gets picked on because of his learning disability. Helped by his mom and his principal, Remy starts an anti-bullying campaign that turns him into a school hero.
The book was so popular, Daniels wrote a sequel last year, and then another volume about his teddy bears Ike and Mike, who explore Metro’s Red Line on a trip to go bowling.
After introducing Plummer’s second-graders to Remy, Daniels had them sign an “I Don’t Bully” pledge. They also got bracelets that read “No Bullying Please.”
“These are the tools that remind them not to bully,” Daniels said.
The lesson seemed to be sinking in.
“Bullying is the wrong thing to do because it makes people feel unwanted,” said Dmardre Vaughn, age 7.
There was also a practical consideration: Those who bully can get bullied themselves.
“You never know if someone is going to do it to you back,” said Alys Barajas, 8.
Even though Daniels still has trouble with spelling, he writes books at his apartment in Northeast, making sure to use the spell-checker on his computer. Back when he had just a dictionary, it was hard for him to write anything.
“If I had to look up the word ‘frozen,’ I’d have to turn every page in the dictionary until I saw it,” he said.
Fighting bullying is actually Daniels’s third career. Decades ago, he was a fashion designer in New York City, making shirts for famous clients such as guitar player Jimi Hendrix. When that business closed, he was offered a job at the fashion magazine GQ — which lasted “about 15 minutes,” he said, when his bosses realized he couldn’t write well.
After that, he got a job renting cars and even worked at Reagan National Airport. He retired in 2007 and now spends as much time as he can putting on puppet shows, creating coloring books and talking to kids about bullying. He also has a book coming out in January about a boy overcoming cancer.
“The most important thing I can do is keep writing books,” he said. “What makes them popular is that they are real.”