PARRSBORO - On May 2, the students of Parrsboro Regional High School will celebrate who they are.
Launched in Parrsboro last year after the suicide of a local student, the I Am Who I Am movement gained international support. While it was identified as an anti-bullying effort, creator Caine Meyers said it was always meant to be much more, and attributes its success to that.
"It wasn't just an anti-bullying event, it was a self celebration event too," said Caine, an 18-year-old Grade 12 student. "The idea was to make t-shirts and write on them about what makes you you, and I think people liked that, mainly because we have a lot of ant-bullying events, but we don't really have any events that kind of celebrate ourselves."
Parrsboro and its high school were in turmoil after March 30 last year, when student Courtney Brown took her own life. Caine responded by creating an "I Am Who I Am" event on social networking website Facebook, encouraging as many people as possible to make their own t-shirts and get involved.
But even he admits he wasn't prepared for the impact it would have.
"I just created a Facebokk group and over a matter of two weeks I had almost 200 participants," he said. "It just went like wildfire."
As for the event itself, he said he was pleased with how many took part.
"I showed up at school that day and everybody had their t-shirt on," said Caine. "It was quite shocking because I didn't think the school itself would be right into it, but it was. A lot of my friends and people I didn't even talk to were into it."
In fact, students from all across Canada and the United States took part, and sent photos of themselves with their t-shirts on. Caine said he decided then that he would try to make it an annual event.
"It was such a success, and I just wanted to go further with it," he said. "I wanted it to spread more and I wanted more people to be involved. I heard a lot of good word about it."
His efforts were noticed by more than his fellow students. Parrsboro town councilor Dawn McCully said she was impressed with the initiative, and has gotten involved in planning this year's event, which will be expanded into a day's worth of activities at the school on May 2.
Counselors will also be on hand for any students who have experience with bullying and want to talk to someone about it, according to McCully, who said she wants kids to get the message that bullying is not accepted and it's OK to be who you are.
McCully even admitted that she has been a bully in the past, and will be wearing a t-shirt that expresses that. She said she would like to see not just people who have been bullied, but also those who have bullied, to step forward and ask for help.
"I think, with everything that has gone on in the town - I personally have witnessed bullying a few times, I just thought the town needs to do something to step up and show we support people trying to get the word out there about anti-bullying," she said.
The town is contributing funds to the event, while also involved will be the SPAR Community Health Board, the RCMP, the Parrsboro Lions Club, and other individuals who have committed to helping out with the day.
The event is featuring a poster contest in which high school students are invited to design a logo for the I Am Who I Am t-shirts, while elementary school students will also be invited to take part in a poster contest on the day of the event. A parade downtown in the afternoon is also being planned, as are various workshops, including one by Const. Dal Hutchinson of the Cumberland RCMP.
Also taking part will be the Youth Project from Halifax, an organization aimed at providing support and services to youth regarding issues of sexual orientation and gender identity; as well as motivational speaker Ricky Anderson; and Pam Murchison, mother of Truro student Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, who took her life in January of last year.
"We just want to put as much into this as we can from the school," said Caine. "It's my last year in high school and I want to leave it... I want this to keep going after I'm gone.
"We just want a strong message to put a lot of emphasis on," he added.