A 13-year-old Forest Park girl was recently selected to appear on a Nickelodeon show in late September, through the Ladies of Favor Mentoring Program, according to the program's founder.
Gabrielle Starr said Maria Mata, a student at Elite Scholars Academy Charter School in Jonesboro, was chosen by Nickelodeon producers to be a part of a "Nick News with Linda Ellerbee" broadcast in New York City.
According to Nickelodeon officials, the show's topic is entitled "Sticks, Stones and Cyberslams: A New Breed of Bully."
Officials said the show will "listen to what kids have to say about the issues surrounding bullying, including cyber bullying."
"After careful consideration, Maria Mata was selected as one of 10 youths in the United States, to appear on the ‘Nick News with Linda [Ellerbee]' show," said Starr in a statement.
"I feel happy, and I feel nervous," said Mata, during a phone interview.
Starr said she will accompany Mata to New York City, where the show will be taped on Sept. 8.
Starr added that the official date for the show's airing will be provided by Nickelodeon after the studio shoot.
Mata said on Sept. 7, she and Starr will fly to New York City in first class seats, and will stay in a hotel, courtesy of Nickelodeon.
"I am really ecstatic," said Starr of Mata's opportunity. "I am so very proud."
Mata said she was not a victim of bullying—she was the bully.
The youngster said she attended Forest Park Middle School, in Forest Park, and began intimidating children at her school, during her seventh-grade year.
She said that while she attended the middle school she associated herself with individuals who were involved in gangs and consumed drugs.
Mata said her first experience as a bully arose when she discovered that another girl was flirting with her boyfriend at school. She said she became jealous and began to tease the girl.
"I started bullying her with words, threatening her to stop it, or I'll fight her," said the eighth-grader.
After her first taste as an intimidator, Mata said she began intimidating other children at school.
The children that Mata bullied included a sixth-grade boy, who had mental disabilities, she said.
"I started making fun of him," she said. "I would push him around and told him he was stupid."
She said these negative actions were normal at school. Boys and girls gossiped and talked negatively about one another, she added.
Mata said she realized bullying did not solve problems when she found out her boyfriend was cheating on her with the same girl she threatened and teased.
"I thought about fighting her but then I said, ‘Why would I fight a girl over a boy,'" said Mata as she remembered questioning herself.
Mata added she is no longer dating the boy.
Mata said she was very rebellious towards everyone around her, including her parents.
Her mother, Ana Mata, said she received phone calls from the middle school every week about her daughter's behavior, and could not tolerate it any longer.
The mother of four said she works as a calendar clerk for two state judges at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, and warned her daughter that if she continued her negative behavior she would eventually end up in jail.
"I got phone calls from the school, because she was not listening in class," said Ana Mata. "She would just get up and leave the class [without permission]."
Ana Mata said she contacted the Clayton County Juvenile Court, and asked for programs that would help children like her daughter.
The court referred Maria Mata to the Ladies of Favor Mentoring Program, a non-profit organization, said Ana Mata.
Maria Mata was enrolled in the program in January, the mother added.
"I could see the difference when she left meetings," said Ana Mata. "She would be more understanding and more approachable."
"I don't like being a mean person," added Maria Mata. "I like being a good person and getting good grades...because it would lead me to success and not failure."
Maria Mata said she is hopeful children will learn from the experiences shared on the show when it airs.
"I want to tell kids to follow your dreams, and you'll see you'll conquer success and not failure," said Maria Mata. "And not to do bad stuff, not to be a follower."
Ladies of Favor Founder Gabrielle Starr said Nickelodeon heard about the mentoring program, when Ladies of Favour appeared on a CNN segment in April.
Starr said Nickelodeon producers called her and advised her that they wanted to interview girls in middle school.
She said that though she had a list of 10 girls, only three were able to make it to the first Nickelodeon interview in May, which included Maria Mata. The girls were interviewed a second time in June, and producers chose Mata in August, said Starr.