S.C. sheriff and world-champion martial artist team up to stop bullying
How a children's book launched a department-wide initiative where deputies will read to students online beginning in September
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and world-champion martial artist Keith Vitali are teaming up to counter bullying among elementary school-aged children in South Carolina and beyond.
The collaboration began with a children’s book, "Victor Stops the School Bully," which Atlanta-based Vitali co-authored with his third-grade grandson Sam Oates. The book tells the story of a fictional 10-year-old gold-belt karate student, Victor, who attends a new elementary school for the first time.
Victor is looking forward to his new teacher, new friends and new surroundings. He’s also naturally fearful of mean or threateningly aggressive kids who might see him as an easy-prey outsider or weak because of his niceness. But he’s armed with life-lessons gleaned from his karate instructor, Mr. Mike, so-named for Vitali’s real-life friend Mike Genova, an accomplished martial arts instructor from Columbia, S.C.
Throughout the story, Victor reflects on the things Mr. Mike has taught him like “being yourself,” making friends, and always being a standup boy guided by personal integrity and honesty among other martial arts attributes.
Last week, the real Mr. Mike Genova stopped by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) and presented a signed copy of Vitali’s book to Sheriff Lott.
“A truly timely gift,” said Lott, who regularly visits elementary schools across central S.C. and reads to children as part of a community bridge-building and literary encouragement effort. “Reading to kids is one of my favorite outreach initiatives, but that’s largely been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic with schools having been closed.”
That changed this past Tuesday as RCSD’s public information office recorded Lott reading "Victor Stops the School Bully" as a kickoff to a department-wide initiative where RSCD deputies will read children’s books to students online beginning in September.
Vitali is a 10th-degree black belt who has appeared in numerous action movies like “Revenge of the Ninja,” and fighting many of the martial arts greats like Jackie Chan. In addition to being a world-champion karate fighter, Vitali was the U.S. National Karate Champion for three consecutive years and a member of Black Belt magazine’s Black Belt Hall of Fame.
"Victor Stops the School Bully" is not Vitali’s first book. He’s written four instructional how-to martial arts books, as well as produced a successful children’s video, “Self Defense for Kids,” which also deals with bullying. He’s been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers and as a children-safety guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Sam Oates, Vitali’s grandson, was key in helping write the book’s dialogue.
“His unique personal perspective with anxieties and fears like millions of other kids his age entering a new school dealing with bullying issues was instrumental in influencing the writing of this book,” said Vitali.
Lott added, “It’s a wonderful read, and I believe it will impart to untold numbers of young people many of the lessons learned by the character of Victor. Adults will benefit from the lessons learned here too.”
The book concludes with 10 substantive tips to dealing with bullies, which Vitali has developed and refined over the past 30 years. The tips cover everything from how to befriend potential enemies, to developing proper body language and facial expressions, to standing your ground or perhaps walking away depending upon the circumstance.
About the author
W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a special deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept.