BULLY FREE …It Starts with You and Me
PHOTOS AND STORY BY MARIA IANNUCCI
A superhero can generally be defined as a fictional hero having extraordinary powers, and can be an exceptionally skillful or successful person. Polk County is home to such a hero; and many area residents and their children have had the privilege of meeting Omega-Man and hearing his anti-bullying/character development message. Marc Wilkes, the man behind the proverbial cape, travels throughout the state and country as a comic superhero; sharing his vision of a world without bullying and helping kids at literally thousands of schools understand the importance of good choices.
Marc’s story begins with a childhood personal experience. Growing up with a speech impediment, Marc struggled with many of the common schoolyard bullying tactics that children sometime demonstrate. After years of teasing and growing depression in his early teens, the mild-mannered young man realized that the bullying was taking its toll. “My parents helped me to understand that I was letting them affect the good person that I was,” said Marc. “I had even considered suicide as a result of being depressed. In the end, though, I decided that I needed to believe in myself and not let that negativity take over my life. I started taking speech therapy and began focusing on my strengths instead of my weaknesses.”
Indeed, Marc grew up to be a stronger and more confident man, putting the stuttering and the bullies behind him and focusing on being positive. Moving to Polk County from Ohio about 20 years ago, Marc started helping a friend, a motivational speaker, by helping out backstage, well out of the limelight. “I was kind of a roadie,” said Marc. “I didn’t mind working behind the stage.” The speaker would occasionally throw the microphone to him to say a few words. “I wasn’t very confident, but with time I got better.”
In time, his friend retired from speaking. At the same time, Marc was falling in love with the idea of inspiring kids and young adults to make the best possible choices. “I have a great passion for speaking to young people and helping them find the right direction,” said Marc. As a result, in 2007, Omega- Man was born.
Omega-Man is a character born as a comic book hero, arriving from a distant planet, whose mission is “to promote positive choices and move the students’ hearts and minds to contemplate positive change and new direction for their lives.” Posing by day as an ordinary guidance counselor, Omega-Man works through comic books, inspirational posters and school assemblies to help stop the evil Deceptor, whose character represents bullies and negative influences such as drugs, smoking, lying, and other negative behaviors. Whether addressing students in schools locally or across the country, Omega-Man’s message is the same. “The word, and symbol, (omega) represents the end or the finish,” said Marc. “Omega- Man is speaking a final message that can change their lives for the better – the choices you make today determine your tomorrow, and those Dream-Maker or Dream-Breaker choices, and the power of those choices, are up to you.”
Standing on the stage recently at Combee Elementary School, Omega-Man reached out to students in two sessions; while the underlying message is similar, the delivery changes slightly to best reach both younger and older kids. Omega- Man stands before a series of brightly-colored banners that visually show the different choices that can be made and that change “starts with you and me,” referring to the dynamic that two people can have. The black-and-yellow clad super hero wears no mask and he incorporates feats of strength to help engage students in the program. During a portion of the program where he talks about “The Book of Bad Choices,” Omega-Man shows how kids can follow a positive perspective and literally tears a phonebook in half. Children are invited onto the stage to hold up signs that say “prevent,” “respond,” and “identify” – words referring to concepts of how to make positive choices. This type of participation brings schools far and wide to Omega-Man’s website as educators seek ways to capture the attention of their students and drive these positive messages home. Those who attend an assembly presentation receive a motivational wristband and the schools are provided with follow-up materials.
Today, Omega-Man spends the school year traveling the country, sharing his personal message of overcoming adversity and the benefits of being a “Dream-Maker” and not a “Dream- Taker.” Years of dedication in working out brought him great physical well-being; Marc is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer at Gold’s Gym during the summers, where he said, “A workout is 25% perspiration and 75% determination.” Also, some exciting expansions are coming down the road, including a line of Omega-Man vitamins and a comic book series.
Many kids have personally written Omega-Man thank you notes for the program, and detail how it has affected them personally. One such letter states, “Thanks to you, I now feel confident in myself. Now I know why I was being so hard on my little brother. It was because people were so hard on me. Thank you for letting me experience that. You changed my life forever…My favorite part was when you talked about advice and bad things in a passionate way. You opened up my heart…you look like a superhero and…people look up to you as you being the right choice and the Dream-Breaker being the worst choice.” The letter is signed, “Your biggest fan.” Children really say it best, don’t they?
To find out more about Omega- Man and the bullying prevention program, call 888-315-6772 or visit www.omegamanschools.com or www.omegamankids.com.