Issue 4 out now!

Writer Aija Mayrock was bullied so badly when she was 14 that she lost her voice. Now she’s fighting back—and on the verge of stardom.

By Rebecca Wallace.

The word “bullying’” gets a lot of lip service these days. Celebrities, social media campaigns, bingeable Netflix dramas. Does any of it make a positive difference? Debatable. But one thing that’s impossible to ignore is the power of Aija Mayrock. Young, full of potential, thriving—the 21-year-old authored a bestselling book and has become one of the most potent and visible forces in the anti-bullying movement. In a world where happy endings aren’t a given, Aija has made it to the other side. And, as a young woman living in a world where it often seems that the only people who can make a change are those at the ver y top—politicians, the rich, A-list celebrities—Aija is proof that truly great movements begin at a grassroots level.

“It started when I was eight years old,” she tells Mission magazine. “I was a regular kid, a bit chubby, tomboyish. I had a bit of a lisp, which was a really big part of the bullying. I would write stories and act in plays, and the fact that I began to get bullied meant that I shut down and stopped speaking for myself. I became a target.”

The verbal, physical, and social attacks continued for years, culminating in the moment when a girl whom then-14-year-old Aija had never met before dressed up as her for Halloween. The result was a vicious cyber-bullying assault that went viral on social media. “That first moment after the attack,” Aija recalls, “I was at my lowest low and didn’t know how to find hope anymore. I didn’t know how to continue my life.”

Writing eventually became a tool for survival, and two weeks later, when Aija noticed a screenplay competition for an international film festival, she decided to enter. She submitted a piece about bullying—her very first—and became the youngest participant ever to win. She says, “I learned I could take my pain and my struggle, do something with it, and make a change.” It was an act of defiance; a desire to show bullied youth around the world that she understood their struggle and that she, too, had survived. But it wasn’t quite enough.

A year later, she was devastated by the news that a young, popular kid in California—who seemingly had it all—had committed suicide as a result of bullying. “I didn’t understand why or how it happened,” she admits. After speaking to her mother (whom she lovingly credits as her biggest inspiration to this day), Aija was given advice that would later become a line in one of her poems: “You’ve got to be brave. Tell your story. If not you, who will tell the story of the 13 million American kids bullied every single year?”

That night, she started writing. Was it a burden she felt, having this message to communicate all over the world? It’s a pretty huge undertaking. “Well,” she says, “at the beginning, I was just writing for myself. It was a tremendous healing process and the beginning of a therapeutic process because bullying had been my norm for so long. It was like looking in the mirror and trying to figure out all these parts of myself.”

Watch Aija perform, and you’ll see that her material goes beyond poetry. Her pieces have the lyrical power of prose with the punchy cadence and rhythmic qualities of rap (Aija actually calls her pieces rap poems, or “roems”). “At the time, I was listening to a lot of rap music. Almost every artist, whether a rapper or singer, that I loved had been bullied. You can understand that they went through some kind of journey.”

Aija is proof of the power of youth, and specifically of young girls, who need encouragement to believe that their voice is worthy. “From the time that we are kids, we are told that we’re too young or that we don’t have the tools to make a change. Even when I was eight, I remember I was so angry about that because I had a fire in my belly then. I had the thoughts and ideas but I wasn’t given the platform.” The way to do this, she believes, is by women continuing to unite and champion one another, showing girls that there’s no need to be competitive (“You don’t need to put others down. You can rise up, and raise others up”).

“The future for women is so bright,” Aija says, “and there is still a lot of struggling that needs to happen. Hopefully in my lifetime we will see an enormous change.”

Author, activist, performer—what next? “In terms of myself, I want to be a voice for those who are not spoken for enough. I want to use media, my voice, and a public platform to influence the next generations and make my impact on the world.” And she’s certainly giving it a go. The day after this interview, she is filming at Madison Square Garden in New York City, having just addressed 15,000 kids at WeDay Seattle. Between all these events and her studies, one question burns—how the f— does she do it? She laughs. “Staying calm and taking things moment by moment is important.” And actually, there’s another (slightly unexpected) source of inspiration. “I have to overcome so many fears for these events, and since I was 10, I’ve had this Kid Cudi quote… “Because in the end, they’ll judge me anyway, so whatever.” And I still kind of live by that, because if I want to do something and feel passionate about it, I can’t worry about what people think or how they will judge me, because no matter what, they will always have something to say.”

Check out Aija’s performances and learn more about her work on her website.