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'Dad, you should listen to the radio more. You know, like, I'm not sure this is really, you know, gonna go over.' -- Edge, repeating his daughter's response to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Chloe Howard, Bullied For Her Clubfoot, Was Inspired By Bono To Become An Activist

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Chloe Howard and Bono

(photo courtesy of RED)

Everyone’s got their U2 anthem.

Chloe Howard’s is “Invisible.” And its singer is one of her heroes, because meeting Bono gave her the strength to make her deformed foot very, very visible.

The 19-year-old from Northern California, born with a clubfoot (basically, her foot was upside down and backwards), endured a traumatic bullying incident in November 2014 during her first year at a private high school: A group of girls restrained her during a lunch period, then ripped off her shoe and sock to expose her misshapen foot. Chloe, who had endured multiple surgeries, braces, casts, physical therapy and more since she was born, had always been told her foot was special because it was like no one else’s. After the assault, she felt ashamed of it. 

Those 90 seconds, she said, “completely undid 14 years of self-acceptance.”

“Invisible” was part of her healing.

U2 released Songs Of Innocence in September 2014, not long before the incident, including the hidden-track version of “Invisible,” which had come out as a single in February 2014. Chloe was a fan of the band thanks to her dad, Dane, who loved U2 and exposed her to their music from an early age (she was the only one of her friends who didn’t care when SOI popped up for free on their iPhone).

“The words of that song became my strength,” Chloe said. “It sounded like Bono was speaking straight to me, which I know is so cliche.”  

I'm more than you know
I'm more than you see here
More than you let me be
I'm more than you know
A body in a soul
You don't see me but you will
I am not invisible

“It became my battle cry at the school I didn’t feel safe at,” she said. “I was yelling to the principal who failed to do anything, to my perpetrators, to the juvenile justice system, to my own feelings and how I felt trapped in them. I didn’t have to be alone. My voice mattered. It helped me realize I didn’t have to be a victim. I was here.”

Months later she met Bono, and his in-person words made her more determined than ever to be visible.

Chloe, who spoke to ATU2 recently with her dad via a Zoom video interview, met Bono by chance, through an Omaze contest that benefited a good cause. Her dad found out in December 2014 he’d won the Omaze contest that offered an opportunity to meet band members backstage on the Innocence + Experience Tour; fans entered by making a donation to the RED campaign. The winner was chosen randomly.

Chloe Howard sign guitar

(photo courtesy of RED)

The experience took place at U2’s I+E concert in Denver, Colorado. Those eight minutes, Chloe said, changed her life.

Before the concert, she and her dad visited with Bono in a curtained-off room. Chloe, on crutches because she’d recently undergone another foot surgery, said she thought ahead of time about telling Bono her assault story, even though she didn’t know how much time she’d have with him, or if he would care.

“I encouraged her to share her story, but to guard her heart,” Dane said. He needn’t have worried.

Bono responded by, well, being Bono.

“What happened to you was an injustice,” he told her. “People ask me if I get nervous when I speak to leaders of the world about injustice. No, I don’t get nervous, because I carry the voices of the many. Like a big, powerful punch collected with all the energy of the world. You have to use that power when you tell your story.”

Bono paraphrased a famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “The logic of the universe bends towards love.” When you speak the truth, “and tell your story, it can give you that power,” Bono said. “When you are right, you have the power. You have to use that power to fight injustice.”

He also told her about a Hewson family prayer: “It’s a simple prayer that states … we are available for work. Whether we say that prayer in the pub or at home, when we make ourselves available for work, we are more open for what we may be called to do.”

Chloe then told Bono she loved Jesus, as she was sure he did, and thanked him for being a good role model. Bono, laughing, replied: “If you really knew me, Chloe, you wouldn’t say that. But thank you.”

His response “was so genuine and real in that moment; it went above and beyond what I expected or hoped for,” Chloe said.

Bono also signed a guitar given to her by RED, and that was it. But Chloe was just beginning.

After their meeting, Chloe continued with therapy for PTSD and depression, and transferred to another school. In the middle of it all, she “felt called to do something bigger,” although she didn’t know what that was. So she applied in December 2015 to give a TEDx Talk in Santa Barbara, California, and found out in June 2016 she had been accepted. 

Chloe Howard TEDx

(photo courtesy of David Kafer)

As she worked on the TEDx Talk, Chloe said, “I was developing this message that was becoming more about others and less about me. Suddenly it wasn’t just about assault, but about the differences that make us who we are.” She began writing the word “beautiful” on her foot with a Sharpie. Through this literal gesture, she started to feel and believe her foot really was beautiful.

Chloe Howard foot

(photo courtesy of George Sakkestad)

That realization, and Bono’s encouragement, became the foundation for Stand Beautiful, a movement she created to “empower people of all ages to embrace their uniqueness and boldly face their beautiful selves.” On Aug. 20, 2016, at age 16, she stood barefoot on a TEDx stage and told her story, and how Bono’s words challenged and inspired her.

“It felt for the first time like my voice had been given back, like I was fulfilling Bono’s words,” she said. “In that moment the arc of the universe was bending toward justice and love, and my message has now become about justice and love.”

Chloe said she realized she wasn’t the only “broken” person in the world — that we’re all broken, especially bullies. “My message of love turned to anti-bullying, and learning to love ourselves in order to learn to love others, embracing what makes us different,” she said.

A juvenile court eventually sentenced her attackers with battery, Chloe said, and she forgave the perpetrators.

She published two books in her final year of high school. The first is a memoir, Stand Beautiful: A Story Of Brokenness, Beauty And Embracing It All. The second is a children’s picture book, also titled Stand Beautiful, with illustrations by Deborah Melmon. She’s already been on a national book tour, and been featured in national media, including TeenVogue, on Mike Huckabee’s TBN show, and on numerous local news and radio broadcasts. 

As a guest of CURE International, she traveled through India, Africa and the Dominican Republic, speaking to children about her clubfoot. She also traveled through Guatemala as a guest of World Orphans. She was named a RED Activist of the Week in 2018. She’s been speaking to youth and adults around the country and world at schools, corporations and organizations. 

Chloe graduated from high school in June 2018, and just finished her first year at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, majoring in psychology and religious studies. She still listens frequently to “Invisible,” and said her encounter with Bono didn’t end at the Denver concert. A year later, Bono’s representatives found out she was giving a TEDx Talk. They sent her a picture hand-drawn by Bono with the following note:

“Fellow comrade Chloe, your head and heart are a perfect rhyme. Your fan, Bono”

He truly saw her: the soul in the body. Visible, and very much here. 

Learn more about Chloe and Stand Beautiful at her website, and see footage of her meeting Bono in a video about her created by Omaze. 

Chloe Howard Bono drawing