I’m sitting here on the couch in my pajamas. My daughter, Katie the Star Wars girl, is on my phone chatting with Layla Murphy. Layla is the little girl who made news this week when Star Wars fans rallied around her after she was bullied at her new school for wearing an R2-D2 jacket and a Guardians of the Galaxy shirt.
“I’m really proud of you, Layla. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for yourself,” Katie is saying.
A few minutes later, I hear Katie say, “Well, I really like Leia. She’s awesome! Who is your favorite character?”
I first learned about 8-year-old Layla a few weeks ago. Jason Tuttle, a member of the local chapter of the 501st Legion, Garrison Tyranus, wanted to do something special to support the little girl. The 501st decided to present Layla with my daughter Katie's former stormtrooper armor in a special ceremony on August 8th. Whoa, back up, you might think!! What armor???
So, this is actually a story 5 years in the making. . .
In 2010, my then first-grader, Katie, made worldwide news headlines after she was bullied at school for carrying being a female Star Wars fan. The boys at school taunted her for carrying a Star Wars water bottle and backpack. An article I wrote about the experience went crazy viral, and the support from the worldwide fan community was instant and effusive.
My husband and I like to say that we were the first ones to adopt our daughter Katie, and in 2010, she was also adopted by the geeks and nerds of the world, who dubbed her "Katie the Star Wars girl" and created a hashtag, #maytheforcebewithkatie.
Led by Steve Gaza of the Midwest Garrison, the 501 Legion came together in an , built to the specifications for the original Star Wars movies. The gesture was one of solidarity against bullying. It was a show of support for the right of little geek girls to play with something besides gender-assigned toys.
Katie rocked that armor at her school’s Halloween parade. And again while trick-or-treating. And in spring at the Purim Carnival. And in summer at Star Wars Day in Joliet. Getting her ready each time was a cosmic task, but the outcome was always stunning.
But in the summer of 2014, the 501st Legion reached out to us. Another little girl, 11-year-old Allison, was being bullied at school. Daily, she was taunted, ostracized, and even physically attacked by her peers.
The 501st wanted to know, would Katie be willing to pass on her beloved armor to Allison, so that another little Star Wars fan could feel the love of the fan community? Katie loved the chance to pay it forward. We packed up her awesome armor, added in some notes and cards wishing Allie good luck, and arrangements were made for the transfer. The armor was presented to Allison at a wonderful ceremony at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling armor had begun! The 501st Legion -- often known as "the bad guys doing good" -- was surrounding bullied little girls with a physical and psychological suit of armor to help them deal with the dark side.
It has been a year since Allison received Katie's armor, and now a third little girl, Layla, was in need. Plans were quickly made, and members of the 501st drove for hours to get the armor from Illinois to Virginia. On August 8th, 2015, after suiting up for the first time, Layla participated in an epic ceremony complete with a video message from Katie and a meeting with Weird Al Yankovic at a concert.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Armor is making its way across the country, touching the lives of little girls and their families. Katie and Allie and Layla are all connected now by the light side of the Force.
After Katie talked with Layla on the phone this morning, I spoke with Layla's mother, Nicolette Molina. Lovely and warm, she said, "This whole experience has really made her blossom back into the girl she was before. We are a military family that moves often, so having these people come and act as a family for us -- it's amazing! Layla is just loving the armor! Yesterday she came home from her troop and put on her stormtrooper pajamas and said, 'I'm still trooping!'"
Katie told Layla that she has Stormtrooper pajamas too. As do her sisters!
Katie and I are sending Layla a copy of our new children's beginning chapter book, co-written with Juliet Bond, called Jazzy's Quest: Adopted and Amazing! (Jazzy is a Star-Wars-loving girl who needs to figure out what makes her amazing. Plus she is fantastic at standing up to bullies). We are also sending Nicolette a copy of my award-winning research-based book, Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. It includes a TON of Star Wars references. :)
We invite Layla to wear her armor and participate in our 5th annual antibullying event, Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars Day, which will be held this year on Friday, December 18, to coincide with the release of Episode 7.
And finally, Katie made a special video last night for Layla to wish her well with the new armor and to tell her how wonderful it is to be a Star Wars fan:
"The Star Wars fan community has been open, caring. They listen to you. They help you with stuff you never thought you could accomplish. They make you feel really special."
May the Force Be With You!!!
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