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Boy who turned bullying into bow tie business recognized for embodying spirit of Dr. MLK Jr.

Alex Hart-Upendo

RACINE -- A 12-year-old boy from Racine is being honored by the city for exemplifying the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He turned his passion for bow ties into a business, and it has helped him overcome bullying at school.

"Actually, I do have hair bows and stuff in here," said Alex Hart-Upendo, CEO/founder of Build-a-Bow.

Designing sharp looks takes a sharp eye, and Hart-Upendo developed a love of bow ties at a young age.

"You can do anything you put your mind to. When I was 5 years old, my mom taught me how to create bow ties, and when I was 9 years old, I sparked the idea to create my company," said Hart-Upendo.

The business took off at the same time Hart-Upendo was having a hard time.

"I was actually being bullied in school, and I was also on the spectrum for autism. That's what actually led to me being bullied," said Hart-Upendo.

After years of bullying, Hart-Upendo decided to make a change.

"I was beat up on the bus, called names like 'nerd' and 'dork,' and I had very low self esteem, but I decided to take the negative term 'nerd,' and turn it into something positive and fashionable," said Hart-Upendo.

His business, Build-a-Bow, took off. The company is now helping kids worldwide.

"Basically after I started my company, the bullies at school started being nice to me," said Hart-Upendo.

At just 12 years old, Hart-Upendo was honored for his work by the city of Racine, receiving the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Service Award.

"It was just an absolutely amazing experience. It was an honor," said Hart-Upendo.

He wrote a book, visits schools, builds bow ties and speaks with students.

"When I was sewing and creating art, it made me happy, so I thought I could do this with other people and make them happy as well. I just want to let other people know that they're amazing," said Hart-Upendo.

Hart-Upendo has been employed by celebrities like Harry Connick Jr., Ellen and Steve Harvey, to name a few. His bow ties range in price from about $20 to $40.

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