Clara Denise West, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, is the creator and owner of the Koko and Friends characters and the Owner, Chief Executive Officer, and President of Koko and Friends Products, Inc. in Brooklyn, NY. She also is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Koko and Friends Foundation, Inc. She is a retired systems test engineer and a former school teacher. West holds a Ph.D. degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She earned Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Business and Security Management from Webster University. Moreover, she received Bachelor degrees in Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from the University of Memphis.
West is a former engineer with the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. When her daughter was 8 years old, she attempted suicide due to bullying. West was unable to find age-appropriate resources to help her deal with her feelings of fear, shame, loneliness, helplessness and hopelessness. In desperation, she began making up stories about a family of young bugs, Koko and his cousins, who were being picked on the “cool” bugs in their house. Because her daughter connected emotionally with the characters, West was able to enter her world, see things through her eyes and create “underdog” stories to equip her with survival skills. Koko, an acronym for “Keep On Keeping On!”, means— Never, ever, give up! Thus, the Koko and Friends project was birthed.
West is the creator of the Koko and Friends Anthropomorphic Characters and product line; the PreK-12 Koko and Friends Anti-bullying Program; and the Last Straw “You Can’t Break Me!” Campaign. The Koko and Friends Project has a social message that is universal across all cultures and socio-economic classes. The characters are representative of typical 21st century youth who learn life-lessons through their daily experiences and new adventures. The young bugs learn character-building principles and values as well as develop life-long decision-making skills. West is the author of Koko and Friends: Born to Play – Destined to Win!, Koko and Friends: Friends??? Oh, Really!!!; The Family That Plays Together, Stays Together; and Standing Strong. She is the creator of the Koko and Friends Anti-bullying Program and a co-developer of the Wise Up! Law and Order curriculums. She is also the creative force behind the Check Up!, Check This Out! and Check Point series for elementary school students; the Reality Check for Teens © booklets for middle and high school students – Gangs; Gun Violence; Teen Pregnancy for Guys; Teen Pregnancy for Girls; Dating Violence for Victims; Dating Violence for Abusers; The Race Talk—Racial Profiling; Sexting and Sextortion,; and Risky Sexual Behavior.