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It was nearly a decade ago at Central Kings Rural High School in Cambridge, Nova Scotia, when grade 12 students Travis Price and David Sheppard caught wind of a grade nine student being bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school.
Instead of standing idly by and watching it happen, they decided to step up and do something about it.
Almost 10 years after the fact, their act of standing up to bullying has grown into a worldwide movement called Pink Shirt Day.
This is their story.
Josh: First of all, can you just tell me a little bit about your story and what kick started this movement a decade ago?
Travis: Pink Day started when a grade 9 student was bullied for simply wearing a pink shirt. Myself and David Sheppard, the other co-founder, heard about this, saw it and thought that bullying had gone on long enough in our school and we could make a difference. We didn't immediately know how so we went home that day and started thinking about ideas.
Eventually, we came up with the idea that if we wore pink and got other people to wear pink that they couldn't bully all of us essentially. So we went out and bought everything we could find that was pink, tried to encourage our school to wear pink the next day and fortunately for us our school got behind us. Out of 1,000 kids we got about 850 people wearing some kind of pink and from there Pink Day started.
Within the week we had schools throughout Nova Scotia and the next week schools throughout Canada and within a month there were schools all over the world that were taking part in the movement that we started, kind of accidentally.
J: It just kind of spread exponentially hey?
T: Yea it just took a life of its own, it grew organically and so many youths were affected by the issue of bullying that this is kind of their chance to raise up, use their voice and say hey I've been bullied but it's okay. Now we can have a conversation about it and Pink Day has taught us about it.
J: Obviously Pink Day has gotten a lot bigger over the years, but can you comment on how bullying has changed over that time, how the perception of it has changed and how things have gotten better, if they have?
T: Bullying has definitely changed with the evolution of social media and cyber-bullying. I'm never one to blame those and I still continue to look at how we can educate youth to properly use those tools at their disposal. It has changed, it's 24/7 with youth now, which really implies how important the work we do is that we make sure kids know there are other ways and there's help out there, you just have to ask for it. Maybe kick, yell and scream until help comes. It's 10 years this September, the movement has grown organically but the message has always stayed the same it's about helping one person.
Then the second message is really that it's a conversation and we need to have that conversation no matter how much bullying changes. No matter what it does, conversation and education will always be the key and research shows us that. So we have to keep making sure that kids understand there are safe places for them to go and talk, that there are people out there that want to help them.
Schools now have guidance counsellors and so on for a reason, they shouldn't be scared to use those people. And remember that you don't need to tell everything all at once, it takes time, it took me time to start talking about the things that happened to me. It's just important that kids understand there is help out there for them.
J: You mentioned cyberbullying and the addition of social media and how it's not just at school anymore. People have to take that all home with them, which makes it all the more important for those kids to know those resources are there?
T: Absolutely. There's a lot of people that used to come up to me and try to get me to blame social media, but I've never been one to do that. I think it's about educating kids on the proper ways to use social media, it's digital citizenship.
I think it's very important that kids have access to it to be honest, because to me Pink Day wouldn't have grown to 30 countries without things like Facebook and Twitter. So to me, it's important that kids just learn how to use these social media outlets in a proper way and in a respectful way.
J: Pink Shirt Day is obviously a fantastic initiative, but what else happens during the year that maybe didn't happen 10 years ago, as a result of this Pink Shirt movement?
T: I kind of micromanage internationally with our groups around the world, but really out messaging and our goal is that we make every day Pink Day. We want to make sure kids can go to school every day and not worry about the harmful effects of bullying.
So we try to do a very good job of continuing to educate, to keep the conversation going all year long and that Pink Day isn't just one day a year. As much as Pink Day is important, we want kids to understand that it's not just about the shirt. It's about the everyday actions that they make, it's the choices they make and it's the person wearing the shirt that makes those choices.
J: What kind of response do you see from the kids as you're doing these school tours?
T: It's always very positive. I think it's always great that kids are able to come up to me and talk to me. On Monday, when I was in Kelowna, about eight kids came up to me and disclosed that they either were being bullied or had been bullied. When I asked them, have they talked to anyone about it, they say that I was the first person.
It really shows that Pink Day and myself are really able to create that conversation piece. Those kids can then go get help from a guidance counselor just because they felt safe talking to me. I can say, listen I know this person too and this is someone you're safe talking to and you should sit down with them, and they take my advice because they know that I've been where they've been.
J: There's a lot of discussion about mental health and how the stigma has changed for the better over the last couple of decades, but there's still work to be done. The recent articles and videos about former NHL goalie Corey Hirsch outline it really well. Do you see that same kind of progress when it comes to bullying?
T: Absolutely. I think bullying too was a stigma and people didn't want to admit to being the bullied kid, nor did people want to admit to being a bully. I think that we've really changed that conversation and we've broken that stigma to say it's okay that you're bullied, there is help. And it's okay that you use this bullying behaviour because it is a behaviour and it can be changed. We can now educate you to make sure that you don't continue to use this behaviour and I think that's powerful.
I'm always moved when I see people come out and really represent the cause, whether it's Pink Day directly or bullying or mental health. It's another role model for kids, another person that kids can look to that they might relate to more than they do to me. Or more than they do to Sheldon Kennedy, another former hockey player. I think it's powerful when these athletes are able to step up and really do this.
A former Saskatchewan Roughrider, Scott McHenry, admits to being a bully and he talks to kids about it and how a group of kids stood up to him and it changed his life. Because this group of kids stood up to him, he felt like that all worked towards him being able to go to the University of Saskatchewan, play football, and go on to play professionally and win a Grey Cup in 2013. I think that's really powerful that we have people like that who can be positive role models to kids and really deliver a strong message.
J: People can show their support by wearing pink on Wednesday, what else can people do to show their support or help the cause?
T: Tomorrow, wearing pink is obviously key, but we also have this great campaign with our friends at Shaw and Coast Capital. Every tweet and Instagram post that includes the hashtag #PinkShirtPromise, they will donate $1 to the cause, which is just fantastic we can't thank them enough for that.
To make every day Pink Day, it's just the little things. It doesn't need to be big extravagant events with fireworks and confetti. It's asking people how their day is and asking people if they need to talk about stuff like them. When we have open conversations about bullying and the things that happen to us, that's when people can start to feel better and that's when people can start to heal.
J: Travis, thank you for your time, thanks for all you do and I can't wait to wear some pink on Wednesday!
T: Thanks so much Josh, I look forward to seeing some pictures.