Pink Shirt Day got its start after an incident at a school in Berwick, Nova Scotia in 2007. Two grade 12 students, David Shepherd and Travis Price, reacted to a new grade 9 student in the school being bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. Determined to take a stand and show support for the new student, they bought fifty pink shirts and told their classmates of their plan to hand them out at school the next day. Word spread through the school body and the majority of students wore pink shirts the next day at school. As the two stood in the foyer handing out the shirts, the bullied boy walked in. Price later recalled that ‘his face spoke volumes’ and it looked like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. From that one act of kindness, Pink Shirt Day was born. Pink Shirt Day is a visible statement against bullying and as Price said, “Finally, someone stood up for the weaker kid.”

The province of Nova Scotia proclaimed the second Thursday in September as “Stand Up Against Bullying Day. The following year British Columbia proclaimed February 27th to be its provincial anti-bullying day. April 10th is the International Day of Pink, a day dedicated to the cause against bullying, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and transmisogyny around the world. Many countries around the globe recognize specific days to raise awareness about promoting kindness and inclusion and preventing bullying. In 2012, the United Nations declared May 4th as Anti-Bullying Day and now in Canada, the last Wednesday in February is the national Pink Shirt/anti-bullying day, and the message of anti-bullying is being heard from kindergarten through high school graduation.

Bullying is a major problem in schools, workplaces, homes, and over the Internet. Each year, on Pink Shirt Day, people are encouraged to wear something pink to symbolize that as a society, Canadians will not tolerate bullying anywhere. Take the message and remember it all year long. It is so important that victims of bullying know they are not alone and there is help and support available. Wearing a pink shirt on this day sends a strong message to them that others care. Often, the simple act of wearing a shirt can start conversations – conversations can be a big step towards healing and helping!

Pink Shirt Day Canada launched in 2020 and is an interactive show designed just for schools. It is a 40-minute show, where hosts talk about being kind, hear from youth and award-winning authors, honour Indigenous people, and hear from students about their kindness projects. Students can also play a game and have chances to win prizes. The Pink Shirt Day show is presented by the WITS Programs Foundation (WPF), a Canadian charitable organization, whose mission is to create safe environments for children and youth. WPF engages school students with their programs Canadian Kindness Leaders/Mentors canadienne en gentillesse; WITS & LEADS (English) and DIRE & MENTOR (French), and the Pink Shirt Project, introduced in 2022. The 2022 and 2023 broadcasts reached over 500 classrooms from 50 schools totaling over 10,000 children and youth from both high schools and elementary/public schools, representing most areas of Canada.

In 1993 at Lampson Street Elementary School in Esquimalt BC, Principal Judi Stevenson had been teaching students four simple conflict resolution strategies: Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, and Seek help. Other local educators soon adopted these WITS strategies, and “using your WITS” quickly became a common phrase at schools in Greater Victoria.

Tom Woods, a school police liaison officer, after seeing the WITS strategies at work, wanted to broaden its reach. So, in 1997, in collaboration with Stevenson, local athletes, and local law enforcement officials, he launched the Rock Solid Foundation with a mission to provide violence prevention programs to children and youth. The Greater Victoria School District 61 saw the potential in what Woods was aiming to do and assigned teachers and counselors to work with Rock Solid to review his WITS Program. Then the University of Victoria partnered with Rock Solid from 2004-2009, contributing to its implementation, evaluation, and its associated educational materials. The resulting program is one based on literacy and centred on a whole-community approach.

The WITS programs are proven to reduce peer victimization (bullying), and have been started in elementary schools in Canada, the USA, and Europe. Over a hundred thousand children have learned to use their WITS to prevent victimization. The WITS program gives children aged 5 to 11 the tools to manage conflicts and empowers them to make safe, positive choices within their community. WITS LEADS is the extension of WITS and is a program for students in Grades 4 to 6. It encourages understanding of different perspectives by using five problem-solving strategies: Look and listen; Explore points of view; Act; Did it work; and Seek help. The DIRE (WITS) and MENTOR (WITS LEADS) programs were piloted during the 2012-2013 school year and are available for use in both Francophone and French Immersion schools.

In 2015, the Rock Solid Foundation changed its name to WITS Programs Foundation (WPF) since its only initiative was the WITS group. In 2020, they expanded their program offerings and with support from Heritage Canada, created and piloted Canadian Kindness Leaders (CKL) in thirty-six schools in four provinces. CKL empowers youth to develop and implement their own projects centred around kindness. The Foundation will continue to innovate, partner, and have a positive impact on communities via WITS, Pink Shirt Day Canada, and Canadian Kindness Leaders. The WPF also began delivering the Pink Shirt Day message to children and youth on Canada’s Pink Shirt Day every February. 

Celebrate diversity by wearing a pink shirt and participating in activities in workplaces, schools, and communities on February 28th.

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 22, 2024 at 19:17

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan
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