What’s in a (pink) shirt?

What’s in a (pink) shirt?

It’s Pink Shirt Day in Canada – Feb 26, 2020 – and we are all reminded once again to be kind, to be welcoming, to be open to people different than ourselves, to be supportive, to stand up for others that are being treated badly … and really, for simplicity’s sake … how about just to be a decent human being?

Of course, it seems ridiculous to need to have a day to remind ourselves of this, but, we all know the world we live in and the general decline of decency and what used to be called common courtesy that surrounds us. So in order to visibly unite “against bullying” and “for humanity” we all don a pink shirt in solidarity, or better yet BUY a pink shirt because at least then a few bucks might find their way to an anti-bullying cause. Schools and workplaces across Canada are awash in pink today, civic buildings lit up, street-level canvassing and mini-parades ripe for a 60-second segment on the lunch hour news.

It’s all just so earnest you could cry.

Trust me, I believe in the spirit of this with all my heart … I understand that visibility matters and that darkness is rooted out by the light … BUT I can’t hide my cynicism when our headlines are full of vitriol, shocking behaviour by so-called leaders and the steady stream of tweets and videos overflowing with misplaced rage. How does a t-shirt fight against that?

At the end of last year, I was shocked to my core to learn of the bullying death of a young boy in Hamilton, Ontario. What? a bullying death here in Canada – the land of “nice” and “sorry” and social security for all? Yes, here. To learn of the details of the relentless bullying of this boy and that his mother literally watched him get stabbed by another boy was just too much for my heart. It physically hurt me.

As a way to process this pain, I wrote a poem about the incident – about the death of a boy named Devan. I don’t know the family, or the community, only parsed together details from the news reports I read, so hopefully it will be received in the spirit in which I wrote it. The spirit of shared pain. The spirit of disbelief at what we’ve become. The spirit of remembrance. The spirit of celebration for a life rather than the infamy awarded those who took that life. The spirit of motherhood. And, somewhere deep inside, well out of the shadow of pink t-shirts, the spirit of hope that we can find a better way forward, together. Because, what other choice do we have?


of wolves and green-haired boys


a stabbing 

outside the school today
shocked even this hardened, rust-belt city
a blackened eye, a stolen bike
a sacrifice that will end a life
the headlines tell the tale of

a mother
seconds too late, too late
to save her green-haired son
helplessly watching while wolves
push a blade into his back

34 days
from insult to execution
a quick campaign by any measure
barely time for the leaves to turn and fall
foreshadows dispatched to the cooling ground
but enough time to whip

the pack
sensing an easy mark they circled and frothed
relentlessly pressing for opportunity
the lowly Omegas enjoying the chance

to bully
instead of be bullied
knowing firsthand the power of
the pain they wield on

three stooges
who tried to stand tall while adults worried
through appropriate channels
but gentle hearts are no match
for mob-honed malice sweat in

testosterone waves
from teenagers still
learning to shave
were they surprised when

a bear
roared toward their crowing gang
sure his challenge would earn respect
but he underestimated the

dark blood
coursing through this family
Alpha. Beta. Delta to Omega.
there was equal fury in the cresting power of the pack
they did not fly, but in this place where
no one wants to be an easy target,
held ground and exposed their own fangs through

bear spray
and whether intended saviour or provocative spark,
this bear fled with eyes streaming
forever to be broken up, broken up
leaving his charge stranded
to face the rabid
now howling with triumph

the target
ran as they always do
primal instinct unbidden
but a fatal miscalculation befell the
still-forming young brain
for instead of retreat to the many he chose a 

solitary run
through the street
the pack of five hot behind
excited by the fear they could smell on their prey
wicked brothers leading the thrall to the 

fated end
where a boy who should be playing video games
stabs a boy who should be playing video games
leaving him to bleed in the arms of his mother
creating an unfathomable visual
until she prays to never close her eyes again so as not

to see
and lost in the end is the boy still carrying plump cheeks of youth
a green-haired boy with a loving heart
a boy named Devan
who liked the colour purple and fixing cars
who won’t be coming home from Grade 9 today

see him
through the already-waning solidarity of pink t-shirts
see him
instead of the wolves
see him


*in memory of Devan Bracci-Selvey, killed October 7, 2019 outside Sir Winston Churchill High School, Hamilton, Ontario  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/devan-bracci-selvey-bullying-shari-1.5315029