Country music newcomer Lizzie Sider is on a mission.
The 16-year-old singer/songwriter - who was bullied and teased relentlessly when she was younger - is carrying her powerful, anti-bullying message of hope and empowerment to school kids all across America.
She's using a song she wrote, "Butterfly," as part of an interactive assembly program to reach elementary and middle school students. In just one school year, she appeared at 250 schools and touched the lives of more than 100,000 children.
This week (Nov. 14-Nov. 21), Sider has taken her "Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day Bully Prevention Assembly Tour" to schools in the Washington, D.C., area. In October, she was in New York City with her motivational program, and before that, she appeared at hundreds of schools in California, Florida and Texas.
Sider has been featured on "Entertainment Tonight," "Access Hollywood," "Billboard," "The Queen Latifah Show," "Hallmark's Home & Family," "The Better Show," "TIME for Kids," "Nashville's Crook & Chase" and "Emotional Mojo." She was also named by the Country Music Association as an "Artist to Watch in 2013."
Splitting her time between her home in Boca Raton, Florida, and the country music industry in Nashville, Tennessee, Sider recently participated in her second CMA Fest week, with her own booth and live performances. Both "Butterfly" and the singer's follow-up single, "I Love You That Much," charted in the Top 40 on the Music Row Country Chart. She's opened for Gloriana, Jamie O'Neal and Aaron Tippin.
Sider is currently working on an EP of new material for release in early 2015. The EP is being produced by award-winning James Stroud, who has generated more than 130 career No. 1 hit singles for a wide range of musical artists.
HNGN caught up with the teenage singer and active anti-bullying ambassador for an exclusive interview as she waited to board a plane in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She candidly talked about the bullying she endured, how that experience changed her life in unexpected ways, what she does in her highly-successful assembly program and how she used her negative experiences to write her uplifting song "Butterfly."
"The bullying I experienced happened from kindergarten to the fourth grade. It was all verbal and emotional. It had a huge impact on me. There was a lot of ridicule that would go on during the day. I would come home crying almost every single day. My parents were always so supportive. My mom would pick me up from school and there in the car we would talk about my day. She would express her love. My dad would do the same. I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have both of them."
"You know, I was a totally happy kid outside of school. But when I was in school, I didn't always feel that I could be myself. Yes, I had my group of friends and I really didn't have problems with the guys too much. It was really just with a group of girls."
"One of the things that would happen is that I love to sing. So, I would be walking around the playground and I would be singing. And this group of girls would come up and say, 'Oh, Lizzie, could you sing a song for us?' I'd think they're really being nice to me this time and I really do love to sing. So, I'd start singing for them, but they would laugh at me and run away."
"That's just one of the things they did to me. It really did get to me because I really didn't know how to handle it. I was one of those kids who would fight back if someone said something mean to me, because I didn't believe people should be mean that way. That's not what my parents taught me. And I would also stand up for other kids."
"It's crazy, but now that I've seen bullying for myself, I now know that bullying happens in every school."
How Bullying Changed Her:
"One day when I was walking out the door to go to school, my dad told me that that nobody has the power to ruin your day. He told me to remember that. I really didn't understand what he was saying at first. I really had no idea what he was talking about. But he had planted that thought, that idea, in the back of my mind."
"Then one day I realized, 'Oh, my gosh, it's up to me to decide if I am going to let what's happening to me get me down or not.' And being in the fourth grade, that was a huge revelation to have. It changed my life and it changed the way I thought about people who were mean to me or who were mean to others. It really affected me and gave me this awesome life lesson going forward."
"I am really happy that I learned that lesson when I was young. Now, I'm not saying that I am glad that I experienced teasing and bullying when I was younger, but, honestly, I would not be the same person without it. And I am so happy that I am able to take my strength and to publicly speak in front of other kids and people who may be either a victim or a bully or bystander. My goal is that I can, hopefully, change the way they think of others or themselves and, in that way, I can help them out."
Her Powerful Assembly Program:
"My assembly is about 35 minutes long. I go into elementary and middle schools, predominantly elementary schools. I talk to the kids about my personal experience of being bullied in elementary school. I think what I say resonates with them because they're thinking, 'Oh, my God, she's only 16, so she's really close to my age. And she was really bullied and yet she came overcame it.'"
"I also talk to them about what I have learned from my experiences. The assembly is really interactive. There's a lot of singing and a lot of fun, so the kids kind of learn without it being a dull learning process."
"It's very friendly. I approach everything and ever kid with open arms. It's really cool. There's one part in the assembly where I ask the kids why do you think people bully? I am really impressed by the in-depth answers and the points that these kids bring up. You know, they are just elementary school students, so to know that they are thinking about some really deep things is great."
"I share my experiences and we talk about anti-bullying. There's a lot of focus put on positivity and encouragement. Because I think it's really all one thing that just goes together. It's really, really fun and at the end of the assembly I sing my song 'Butterfly.'"
"I wrote 'Butterfly' about my experiences of being bullied, but it's a song for anyone who's experienced any hardship or who is going through a tough time. It says that all they need to realize is to be themselves and not worry about the other people in the world - and just fly like a butterfly."
"Most of the time, the kids know the song really well. So, they're singing along with me and their singing along with me and they're screaming louder than I could ever sing-even with the sound system. It's really a moment that unifies everybody. I think that is one of the most powerful moments of the assembly and it is the grand finale. So we finish with a bang and it's really fun."
How "Butterfly" Took Wing:
"I was in Nashville writing with three incredible songwriters, Jamie O'Neal, Lisa Drew and Jimmy Murphy. We were in Jamie's living room and we had just finished writing a ballad about summer love. So we decided we wanted to change the pace by writing something that was upbeat and fun."
"I had this idea to use my negative experience about being bullied into something positive. So, I told them my story. Lisa said that sounds great and she was typing notes on her computer. We all tossed around the idea. Then we realized that my story of overcoming bullying is identical to the life cycle of a butterfly. You know, you start out and you're small. You're kind of wrapped up in your cocoon or your shell, and you don't think that you can come out just yet. Then, as you grow and spread your wings, you flourish into this beautiful butterfly. And each butterfly is different. Each butterfly is unique. Just like each person is different, each person is unique."
Watch Sider's energetic "Butterfly" in-studio video here:
The "Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day" tour is currently in Washington, D.C. These are Sider's scheduled appearances, with more to be added:
11/14 Silver Springs, Md. Sligo Creek Elementary School
11/17 Centreville, Va. Cub Run Elementary School
11/18 Clarksburg, Md. Rocky Hill Middle School
11/19 Falls Church, Va. Haycock Elementary School
11/20 Rockville, Md. Wheaton Woods Elementary School
11/21 Gaitersburg, Md. Rachel Carson Elementary School
For more information on the tour and Sider, please visit her website.