Bolaji Oyejide was shy growing up, but reading comic books inspired him to have confidence in his own talents. Now, he’s working to pass on that lesson through a series of adventure stories about uncommon superheroes.
Called Brave Young Heroes, the books feature underdog kids who overcome conditions such as autism, anxiety, asthma, dyslexia, homelessness and obesity. Oyejide has written roughly 50 books over the past seven years and self-publishes them through Amazon. He estimates that he’s reached about 200,000 young readers.
“They all feature kid superheroes that have to overcome some adversity,” Oyejide said.
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Growing up in Nigeria, Oyejide was introverted, and he felt isolated from his more outgoing peers.
But he gained confidence through reading Spider-Man comic books. Peter Parker was an awkward kid, too. The boys who picked on Peter were the ones he was saving after school as Spider-Man.
“That spoke to me because it said, I don’t know what my superpower is, but there is hope that one day I will also be able to go out and make a difference,” Oyejide said.
We are so excited to announce that we have added a new speaker to the line up! Bolaji Oyejide set out to write 52 books in 52 weeks that inspire kids to find their inner super hero. His series has been met with rave reviews by a variety of young readers. Mr. Oyejide has a fascinating and inspiring story (I got chills hearing it today !!) and we can't wait for him to have the opportunity to share it with YOU. Look out for more details about TEDxEHS taking place on April 13 to hear his story, and so many others - Ann #tedxenloehighschool #tedxtalks
When Oyejide became a father, he realised that he needed a way to impart these life lessons to his kids.
Writing was a career shift for Oyejide, who studied computer science and had a long career working for companies like IBM. However, he faced setbacks when he was laid off three times, a harsh break for a high-achiever who always got good grades at school.
His wife encouraged him to take a break from his corporate career and write the superhero books, which he had been talking about for years.
“It turned into post-traumatic growth,” he said. “The greatest successes are formed through our failures.”
A superhero in one book can fly but is terrified of heights. Another who lives in Egypt can control sand but has asthma.
Oyejide has received feedback from readers around the world. He learned that one mother in France reads the books to her five-year-old daughter every night, translating the text from English to French.
“It’s fascinating to watch the mixture of cultures,” he said. “We’re making sure these kids build resilience and empathy.”
Oyejide noted that kids around the world need both “mirrors and windows”. Mirrors are heroes that kids can relate to because they look like them. Windows can give kids the ability to look into someone else’s life and identify with that person, despite their differences.
For instance, Oyejide learned about a Hispanic child at his son’s school who did a book report on one of the Brave Young Heroes books. Instead of choosing the book featuring a Hispanic hero, the student reported on a story featuring an Egyptian girl.
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Muriel Summers, principal of the school that Oyejide’s children attend, said the books appeal to kids because they show that we all have the power to make a difference.
“The books send the message that you are in charge of you, and that you can do great things,” she said. “You don’t have to wear a costume, you don’t have to have superhero powers, you can do greatness with just who you are.”
She said Oyejide has donated his entire collection of books to the school library and often visits to speak with students.
To expand the books’ reach, Oyejide is launching a new effort this year to create 12 new superheroes, each representing disadvantaged kids in countries around the world. The countries include Dominica, Kenya, Haiti, Iran and Afghanistan.
Oyejide hopes to find a way to help with the global refugee crisis, in which more than half of displaced people are children, according to Unicef.
“That was absolutely heartbreaking to me,” he said. “There are a lot of organisations that will provide basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, but what about emotional resilience? What about these kids holding onto hope?”
School shootings also weigh on him. He said too often the kids responsible are labelled as loners or weird.
“When society appreciates what makes us unique, if we feel appreciated, weird kids can grow up to change the world,” he said.
To promote the books, Oyejide plans to travel to the 12 countries, starting with Dominica. He’s also travelling to Germany in June to visit a refugee camp with kids from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.
His mission is to help kids find their identity and inspire them to change the world one day.
“It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we do with it,” he said. “These kids that go through trauma, they can get through it.”