DADE CITY — T-shirts with the words "Tough Guys Wear Pink" were worn by a number of students at Pasco Middle School on Nov. 18 — it was one of several messages conveyed during Pink Out Day, organized and promoted by the school's Pirates of Peace Club.
Pirates of Peace is a long-standing student organization, co-sponsored by Sunrise Domestic & Sexual Violence Center and funded through a Delta grant. The aim of the group, says Sunrise director of community education and training Terri O'Brien, is for students "to promote peace and healthy relationships in their school and community."
After starting the year with extensive leadership training and learning about issues such as bullying, sexual harassment, prejudice and stereotypes, the Pirates planned Pink Out Day.
"On Pink Out Day, all students wear pink to symbolize their awareness and willingness to stand up to bullying and help end bullying," said O'Brien, who also credits Sunrise staffers Maya Trajkovski and Amanda B. Markiewicz with helping to coordinate the club and a sister organization at Centennial Middle School.
To promote the event, students created posters boasting slogans such as "I'm a Buddy, Not a Bully" and "No Bullying," which were placed in all pods, many classrooms, the media center and the cafeteria. They also prepared announcements with related facts to share with the student body via morning news programs, and letters to their teachers asking them to help promote the school-wide event.
"This club is important to me because a lot of kids are getting bullied," said Pirates of Peace member Christopher Manriquez, a sixth-grader.
Aside from spreading information about what constitutes bullying, the Pirates seek to promote the tenets of peace and friendship within their school and community; to offer words and gestures of kindness to those who need it, and to tell students who are being bullied where they can go at school to get help.
"We want to teach students how to be a better friend," said Emilio Gonzalez, a sixth-grader. "We do our best to help cheer these kids up."
The fight against in-school bullying is only one focus for the group.
"There's so much abuse that's going on in the world," said sixth-grader Kaden Abercrombie. "It has to end."
Events such as Pink Out Day, says Amanda B. Markiewicz, the primary prevention educator at Sunrise, do far more than help combat in-school bullying.
"When you think about it, even the wearing of pink for boys breaks stereotypes," Markiewicz said. "In this group, we encourage the teaching of tolerance, and we teach them about stereotypes regarding gender and race. We also teach them about what healthy relationships look like."
And these lessons are well learned within the group itself, according to Pirates of Peace member Emma Johnson.
"There are the same number of girls as boys in this group," said Emma, a seventh-grader. "Everything is equal."
"We're learning leadership," said Connor O'Leary, a seventh-grader.
Indeed, although Pasco Middle School counselors Sandi Mead and Nick Shaw serve as the club's sponsors, they believe that the power of the group lies with the students.
"They're creating something of their own with this club," said Mead. "They're taking ownership."
And in learning to lead, seventh-grader Ronald James said, the Pirates of Peace are making a meaningful contribution in the fight against prejudice, discrimination, bullying and abuse.
"We're taking a stand," he said.