Mark your calendar and dress accordingly, because it’s International Day of Pink on April 10. People all over will be putting on pink, speaking out about discrimination and standing up against bullying. You and your family are encouraged to join in this Ottawa-based effort to make a difference.
It all started back in 2007 with a couple of high school students in Nova Scotia. A fellow student, who was gay and wearing a pink shirt, was being bullied. They intervened, but didn’t stop with that. The two teens bought their own pink shirts and got everyone at school to wear pink. Unified, their school population put an end to bullying.
Today, the pink message is as clear as ever: We can take a stand and have a positive impact by making a commitment to be more open minded and respectful of others. Jeremy Dias sets a pretty inspiring example. As director and founder of International Day of Pink and Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative, he walks the talk.
Back in high school, Jeremy faced discrimination after he came out as gay. He took the issue to court and when he won a human rights settlement, he used the money to launch these organizations. In the process, Jeremy has jump-started an international anti-discrimination movement that kids, parents, political leaders and whole communities support.
Fittingly, the Jer’s Vision offices are in the Albert Street Education Centre in downtown Ottawa. On a weekday morning, Jeremy is very much an earnest teacher as he addresses a topic about which he is passionate. “Bullying is complex, relationship-based behavior,” he explains, suggesting there’s no point in looking for a single culprit, explanation or solution. “Bullying isn’t one thing. It’s a series of scratches, of paper cuts that cut at your soul on a daily basis.”
“Bullying isn’t one thing. It’s a series of scratches, of paper cuts that cut at your soul on a daily basis.”
Bullying is also pervasive. While no harm may be intended, when you call someone a loser, “dis” him on Facebook, ignore her in the hallway or don’t invite him to a party, those cuts accumulate. “It’s always a shock when there’s a suicide. You talk to students and they say, ‘I can’t believe it happened.’ They say, ‘He seemed like a nice guy.’” Yes, they did throw pennies at him. No, they didn’t think it was a big deal. Jeremy wants kids to think again. “You don’t know when your one comment [or action] will push your friend over the edge.”
What makes Jer’s Vision different from other anti-bullying efforts is its focus on social introspection. “We give kids critical lenses to look at situations and from those critical lenses we get them to challenge their own behavior”—and the status quo. As this youth leader puts it, “We need to look at ourselves as human beings and say, ‘Wait a second. What is going on in our relationships that we’re learning bullying and we’re replicating the behavior we learn?’”
There’s a need for parents to look inward too. Jeremy reminds us, “Kids model the behavior of their parents and the decisions that those parents make.” Whether we tell them, when they’re little, to walk by the homeless person on the street or we say nothing as they soak up sexist, violent, racist and homophobic messages from our home screens, Jeremy Dias dares to ask: “What does that teach?” He wants young and old to think about their own actions and values, to consider the language they use and to question traditional stereotypes. He also wants people to talk about it.
The theme for April 10, 2013 is the Day of Pink Dialogues. He urges parents to be part of the conversation and to start some on their own. “When you share with your kids the challenges you’ve been through, when you educate them, give them information, they actually make better decisions.”
Talking about the mistakes you’ve made and the discrimination they’ve witnessed helps kids learn and put things into perspective. “Is that hard? Of course it’s hard. Is it complex? Of course it’s complex. But if you don’t contextualize…what is going on [in the world],” Jeremy says, “that’s where bullying comes in.”