By Mary Lee Crocker
Provincial Manager for the Red Cross Violence and Abuse Prevention program, B.C. & Yukon
American author Edward Everett Hale once said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.” This was the message that nearly 100 Red Cross youth bullying prevention volunteers (ages 15-17) heard throughout the recent inaugural Canadian Red Cross bullying prevention conference—fittingly entitled A Culture of Action. The conference was strategically held the weekend before Pink Shirt Day to remind youth that they, individually and collectively, are integral to the movement to stop bullying. Travis Price, co-founder of Pink Shirt Day and a Red Cross Bullying Prevention officer, was the keynote speaker at the conference and his story of why he started Pink Shirt Day exemplifies the power that youth have to create a lasting change in their communities and schools.
It was in a small community in Nova Scotia that Travis and his friend David Shepherd saw a young boy being bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. Fed up with seeing incessant bullying in their school, the two courageous high school students took to social media to get as many people as they could to wear pink shirts to school the next day. They were hoping for solidarity from a few students. The next day, more than 700 students showed up wearing pink shirts and, from that day, the culture of their school drastically changed. Six years later, Pink Shirt Day has spread all over the country and is expanding globally. The grass-roots origin of Pink Shirt Day reminds us of the incredible impact that a couple of students can have on stopping bullying and creating a safer school. In fact, nobody is better equipped to be at the forefront of this change than youth themselves. Travis’s story was so important for the youth to hear because it encourages them to stand up to bullying when they see it happening and reminds them that even the smallest action can have the most amazing reaction.
It is crucial for youth to be empowered to make a difference in their schools, communities and amongst their friends—spaces adults often don’t have access to. Red Cross recognizes how important it is for youth to be part of the solution. With Red Cross bullying prevention programming, youth are given the tools to recognize bullying, prevent it and to safety intervene in bullying situations. Red Cross not only trains youth in bullying prevention, it takes it one step further: once a group of high school students is trained in bullying prevention, they go and deliver workshops to elementary school students. Since younger students often look up to older students as role models, this peer facilitation model is very effective. The unique Red Cross model also gives youth a sense of ownership and responsibility to create safe and healthy environments for themselves and their peers.
This past weekend’s conference proved that, with the right tools, youth have the determination and courage to eliminate bullying. While Pink Shirt Day may be transcending borders and expanding outside of schools, the original message remains: the power that youth have to stop bullying in their communities and schools cannot be underestimated.