Suspenders and thick rimmed black glasses is the unorthodox armor that Calvin King decides to wear in order to combat and ultimately end bullying for future generations by 2025.
King plays Buddy, the nerdy protagonist of the play “Be a Buddy Not a Bully,” alongside what King denotes as a “lean but powerful ensemble” which includes: Calvin Evans as Billy the Bully, Salesha Mason as Dean Smiley and Britini Moore as K’Shelley the Bystander.
Together the goofballs tackle all angles of bullying for their prekindergarten through eighth grade audiences.
Through humor King and his ensemble help to break down why bullying is detrimental to a community and how students can use their voices to stop the negative behavior.
Furthermore, the play also works to humanize the bully by pointing out that the aggressive behavior displayed by the student is probably symptomatic of a bullying situation they’re experiencing themselves outside of the classroom.
“Be a Buddy Not a Bully” is a part of Free Lunch Academy (FLA), an artistic outreach program King created to “provide this flawless classroom experience, where everyone can be their natural born selves and thrive in that space and allow others to do the same.”
A Choice to Make a Difference
King was a senior at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign getting ready to finish up his degree in Business Marketing when he went to visit his mother’s side of the family in New York for winter break.
There King encountered his wise grandfather, whose health was deteriorating.
After beginning to listen to his grandfather recount his life in a way that only a lens of 80 years of wisdom could garner, King began to fill a journal with his grandfather’s teachings.
“He would always give me this powerful life-changing, in my opinion, jewels of wisdom that were just regular ways of life to him because he had lived such a long, rich, fulfilling life,” said King. “I’ll never forget when he said at all times in life, regardless of where you’re at or what you’re doing, you’re either teaching or you’re learning.”
Struck and inspired by the candor of his grandfather’s words, King set out to teach his first lesson with a play called “Choices.”
It was a bold decision for someone who did not have a background in the arts nor any prior experience performing in a play.
But, after pitching the concept of a play that focused on detailing how people’s decisions today will impact their future outcomes to a wide variety of his peers, his counterparts were sold.
Thanks to an enormous amount of students donating their spare time to the production of the play both on stage and behind the scenes, King had all the help he needed to make his dream into a reality.
On February 20, 2004, “Choices” debuted and garnered rave reviews and was featured on the front page of his alumni newspaper.
At that moment, King knew that he was onto something.
After continuing the production of the play throughout his time earning a Master’s Degree in Marketing and Business Management, King knew he didn’t want to stop touring the play after he graduated from school.
So, he gathered an ensemble of his peers who shared the same passion as himself and continued to produce his play.
The Future for Free Lunch Academy
Although the play “Be a Buddy Not a Bully” is generally designed to reach younger audiences, it doesn’t mean that King dismissed reaching older students, although he admits it’s a harder demographic to reach.
“They’ve already made their decision of who they are, who they aspire to be, who they’re going to hang around, what thoughts they think…” said King.
In order to reach high school students and young adults, King decided to change tactics by creating Free Lunch Academy (FLA) Ambassadors. It is here that King works to create a full circle process.
Young adults get to incorporate lessons they would have liked to have learned at a young age into new curriculum for younger audiences to adhere to.
Through the social, emotional, creative learning process that FLA promotes, young adults like James Barnett and Cherelle Taylor can mature into the best versions of themselves.
When speaking on what he’s learned from FLA, Barnett, a sophomore at Iowa Wesleyan University, said, “[King] pretty much preached empathy, most of all, throughout the whole message.”
“I just take into consideration everything people feel and [what] they’re going through” he continued.
Barnett currently studies Digital Media Design, a decision that was strongly influenced by FLA.
Taylor, who studies at College of Saint Benedict as a Nursing major, shares advice to new comers for the program: “Be open to learning new things. You meet some amazing people who truly care about you and want you to be successful in life.”
Moreover, King has expanded FLA’s reach by broadcasting a radio show on Urban Broadcast Media. This show features FLA Ambassadors advising other teenagers in regards to their problems and effectively helps FLA reach audiences beyond their geographical perimeter.
In regards to the future, King hopes to open FLA’s first brick and mortar establishment this year, preferably in an underserviced community.
King wants this establishment to be a trauma center that services students, parents, teachers, administrators and supportive adults. He wants the center “to create a community that helps us combat conflict, combat bullying and prevent the things that have a negative impact on the community moving forward.”
To learn more about Free Lunch Academy, visit their website at: https://freelunchacademy.com