BUCKHANNON — This year’s West Virginia Strawberry Festival parade marshal is none other than the caped crusader himself.
But this Batman and his Batmobile will be going down Strawberry Lane on Saturday, May 20 with a special message.
John Buckland founded Heroes-4-Higher in 2012 and seeks to inspire children to be the hero in their own world. His four principles are to never give up, always do the right thing, help other people and never be a bully. These lessons are taught in all of Buckland’s programs. He has been featured on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and news channels including CNN, ABC and CBS.
After returning to the United States from his job as a firefighter with the Department of Defense in Iraq, Buckland realized how much drugs, bullying, abuse and broken homes were affecting the youth in the country.
“These issues are very personal to me, as I was a victim of many of these issues myself growing up,” he said. “It was because of these struggles that the hero characters, especially Batman, along with extensive therapy and support, gave me the inspiration I needed to overcome and then reach out to help others through their pain. I learned through Batman to turn my pain into personal empowerment and use that to help others overcome their own pain.
“So, I figure I’m going to bring Batman to life for the kids in the community with a positive message. I’ve literally been a full-time Batman for almost five years now.”
Buckland has a team at Heroes 4 Higher but says he keeps his squad small and limited to people like him who have risen above their circumstances and can use their own stories to help others.
“When you are teaching the kids in the community and delivering the message, you want it to come from a genuine place,” he said. “You don’t want to be a costumed character going through the motions.”
And just like Buckland wants Batman to be more than a costumed character in Heroes 4 Higher, the Batmobile is not just Batman’s means of travel for Buckland. It presents another way for Buckland to spread his message.
“The Batmobile is actually a rolling memorial,” he said. “It’s not just a cool car. I’ve made the car a rolling memorial for kids we have been honored to be pall-bearers for that have passed away from cancer.”
When the hood is lifted, it reveals special plaques with the names and ages of their children, something Buckland wanted to do to carry their memory wherever the Batmobile travels.
“What good is it to have a car that attracts that much attention, if it’s all only about the car?” Buckland asked. “In my opinion, you failed. What I want to do is bring people to see the car, open up the hood and it redirects the attention to who really needs the attention — the kids who fought the big battle.”
Heroes 4 Higher regularly goes into schools as far north as Gettysburg, Pa. and throughout West Virginia. More than 300,000 have heard Buckland’s Be the Hero Message and Heroes 4 Higher has visited over 300 schools for its Be the Hero Against Drugs and Bullying Tour since September 2013.
Heroes 4 Higher even received a State of West Virginia Legislative Citation for its mission in 2014.
Buckland has been at other festivals, including regular appearances at the Pumpkin Festival, but this will be his first time at an event in Buckhannon and his first Strawberry Festival.
“I have done things up and around that area,” he said. “We supported a few kids from the area.”
Buckland is looking forward to visiting Buckhannon.
“What I’m trying to establish is a relationship with the community to where it will hopefully become an annual event like we are with the Pumpkin Festival,” he said. “The community looks forward to the message that we are blasting out and they look forward to our anti-drug and anti-bullying efforts. That’s what it is all about.
“If I come out there and all I’m remembered for is a cool costume and a cool car, it really hasn’t met the need. There is a huge drug epidemic and bullying problem. Kids and families need motivation through that, that’s the whole reason of why we do that.”