When students, teachers, and community members across Kahnawake, Que., came together on Wednesday wearing bright pink shirts and a message to “be kind,” one teenage girl, Lexi Fox, was on the minds of many.
The 15-year-old took her own life on Jan. 5, sparking dialogue in the Kanien’kehá:ka community about suicide prevention and anti-bullying.
“It’s unfortunate that she had to endure bullying to get to this point but if it can help and save the next person, then they should be doing this every day,” said Fox’s mom Suzanne Jacobs.
Pink Shirt Day is a Canada-wide movement to promote anti-bullying. Jacobs, who said her daughter showed an interest in the LGBTQ community, wants people to remember her smile, creativity, and kind heart. She said she had a passion for drawing but also dealt with bullying in school, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
“No matter how hard Lexi was bullied, she was always nice to everyone. She made sure she left everyone with a smile. It’s not hard; it’s free. It’s exactly what it says, just be kind.”
She once gifted an eagle feather to one of her bullies, said Jacobs, when she found out they’d be attending the same high school.
“She came home and said this kid was bothering her. She gifted him with an eagle feather and then it stopped. She said ‘I think he needs this,’ and that was just how she was, so kind-hearted.”
Raising awareness in schools
The Kahnawake Education Centre, which oversees three schools in the community, purchased pink shirts for all students and staff to wear in memory of Fox. The centre said it was important to show support for safe and inclusive schools, workplaces, and community as a whole. Other schools and organizations across Kahnawake also participated.
“Bullying is an extremely prevalent issue in all schools across the country,” said Carry Brisson, the co-ordinator of student services and family engagement at the education centre.
“The purpose of our initiative is to raise awareness which is the first tool that can be used in an effort to stop the cycle. Statistics indicate that one in three youth have experienced acts of bullying which can result in psychological and emotional trauma leading to low-esteem, anger and frustration, depression and suicide.”
Angel Horn’s four-year-old son Tahoe Wahsakohwatsironni Montour is a student at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa. She shared a photo of him wearing his pink shirt holding a sign “for Lexi.”
“It’s important because we have all been bullied at some point in our lives to some extent. For me to imagine my children being bullied is terrifying especially to the extreme that Lexi was. No child should ever have to live that,” said Horn.
“Kindness starts at home. Every day is an opportunity to teach my babies to be good and kind to themselves and to everyone they meet.”
Sparking community-wide conversations
Karihwiióstha Callie Montour said Pink Shirt Day is an important reminder of the work required to teach empathy, understanding and tolerance. Her son Tsohtsó:ron wore a pink shirt for the day.
“I hope today we all do a lot of self-reflection as adults, and ask ourselves, do our children see us speaking ill of someone, wishing bad on them, or treating anyone disrespectfully even if it’s in the name of humour? Are there any influences teaching them that certain individuals deserve ridicule based on their race, appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence or abilities?” she said.
“We need to remove behaviours and ways of thinking that normalize bullying, and have an open conversation about why it is important to be kind.”
The support expressed across Kahnawake hasn’t gone unnoticed by Jacobs and her family, hopeful to see it spark much-needed conversations.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” she said.
“It needs to keep going. The awareness needs to continue and never stop. Hopefully bullying will stop one day, but the schools doing this is a great step for awareness and letting people know that they’re not alone.”