A University of Arkansas at Little Rock graduate student, who is the reigning Miss Greater Little Rock, aims to advance her anti-bullying platform by sharing her personal story.
By openly talking about her struggles, Brooke Cornelius hopes students see the long-term effects of bullying and take a stand against it.
Cornelius has held several pageant titles, including Miss Central Arkansas, Miss Henderson State University, and Miss South Central Arkansas. As she prepares for the Miss Arkansas pageant June 13-17, she looks forward to attending the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law in the fall.
“This year I really wanted to focus on my platform, ‘Protect Our Youth: Bullying is Not OK!’” she said. “Your platform is something that you choose to be an advocate for. When I started competing in pageants, I knew mine had to be bullying.”
Because of her personal encounters, Cornelius can shine light on bullying from a different perspective, showing the power of words and how they can hurt.
To help spread her message, Cornelius teams up with News Anchor Kevin Kelly from Fox 16 News as he shares his anti-bullying campaign, “Step Up Stop Bullying.” Together, they travel to schools in central Arkansas to encourage parents and teachers to take bullying seriously and to show students they’re not alone, and bullying can be stopped.
At the core of her advocacy message, Cornelius assures victims it’s OK to speak up and voice concerns about their mistreatment with confidence.
“It’s so important for students to tell an adult, a teacher, or someone that they trust about what is happening,” Cornelius said. “Not only will it be relieving to discuss the situation with an adult, but that adult will take preventative actions to put an end to the situation.”
Cornelius knows the impact of not speaking up and its damaging results.
Heartbreak leads to health struggles
When she was 14 years old, Cornelius performed as one of the youngest girls on her cheerleading team. At 5 feet tall, she assumed the role of the flyer, being tossed in the air by her teammates.
Cornelius was enjoying every bit of her cheering experience until she was hit with heartbreaking news.
“I walked into practice, and my coach came up to me, and I could tell she was really flustered,” Cornelius said. “She told me that I couldn’t be the flyer anymore, and she was taking me out of the stunt. I was really confused because everything was going fine as far as I knew.”
Returning to practice a couple days later, Cornelius was made aware that the girls who were lifting her complained she was fat and too heavy to be the flyer.
“What they said had no truth, but I thought it did,” Cornelius said.
Being a naive adolescent, Cornelius took the news hard. As a solution to what she believed was a problem, she began to starve herself. She eventually lost 25 pounds, forcing her into an unhealthy weight of 85 pounds.
Throughout the remainder of her cheering years, Cornelius faced major health problems. Doctors told her she had anorexia nervosa. The condition caused her to lose most of her muscle and become severely dehydrated. It also forced her to stay in the hospital for weeks.
“I was at high risk for a heart attack,” Cornelius said. “My heart was about half the size of my fist.”
Not only could she feel the effects of under-eating, but she could see them just as well.
“My hair was starting to break off in certain areas, and it became very brittle,” she said. “My eyes were sunken in the back of my head, and I learned that my body had eaten the pockets of fat behind my eyeballs.”
In sharing the most alarming parts of her struggle following her experience with bullying, Cornelius seeks to bring awareness and hope to those in similar situations, showing them she walked in their shoes, and there’s a way to overcome.
“I just recently visited a school in Hot Springs and a young girl ran up to me, hugged me, and began crying,” Cornelius said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Thank you.’ Although she didn’t tell me her story in any detail, I knew exactly what she was going through and I felt like I had accomplished my goal. It’s moments like these that I am thankful for and that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
For more information on ways to prevent bullying, visit Cornelius’ website, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.