With a video that has eclipsed 4.6 million views on YouTube since being uploaded only a week ago, Penticton’s Shane Koyczan’s narration of his spoken-word poem is helping bring his anti-bullying message to the masses.
Koyczan admits being only “somewhat surprised” the animated video To This Day has gone viral.
“It’s one of those subjects that people are very passionate about,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he is scheduled to participate in his first TED Talks conference on Thursday. “I’m just happy that it got out there.”
Today is Pink Shirt Day. At boys and girls clubs, schools, businesses and organizations, people are wearing pink to show solidarity against bullying.
Koyczan’s empathy and compassion for those targeted by bullies is genuine because he was bullied as a child and as a teenager while attending Penticton Secondary School.
He knows the pain can seep into people’s psyche, penetrate their heart and soul and leave an indelible mark on their self-esteem.
“The piece was recorded quite a while ago. It came out on the album Remembrance Year with my band, Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long,” he said. “I was just kind of waiting for the timing . . . there’s not a lot of money out there to do any poetry projects. The grants are really competitive, so I needed to wait for the stars to align to really make anything happen. The right things fell into place and the right people got on board and we were able to do it.”
When the video was ready to go, Koyczan asked Brett Wilson, former cast member with CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den, to help publicize its launch.
The video begins with Koyczan retelling his story of how falling from a tree led to him getting his first nickname, “pork chop,” and why he still hates pork chops to this day.
He shares other stories of people being bullied and rejected, and how they were alone and isolated but in need of love and acceptance.
“I think a lot of people can associate because they’re stories we’re not unfamiliar with,” said Koyczan. “The people that I saw being bullied growing up, it all happened on the periphery, but you knew exactly what was happening to them.”
Koyczan said he’d already been bullied as a youngster when he moved to Penticton as teenager. The bullying continued, so he adopted a reputation that caused people to leave him alone.
“People started to steer clear of me, but that’s not what I wanted either,” he said. “It made me feel miserable . . . I hated myself. I didn’t want to be hated. I didn’t want to be feared. I just wanted to get through school. I just wanted to get an education so I could move on.”
As high school was winding down, things began to change for Koyczan, but it wasn’t easy and it took time to adjust to being social again.
Even as an adult, times arise when his childhood scars from being teased and bullied are exposed.
“Now I’m at a place where I’m able to choose the people who I let into my life,” said Koyczan. “It’s not like school where I’m dumped into this box and I have to deal with these people every day.”
When bullying happens at school, all of the students are aware of the circumstances. Some students also want to confront the bully and offer support to whoever is being teased, but it’s not easy, said Koyczan.
“When I saw somebody else being bullied, I didn’t want to get involved just based on the fear that their bully then becomes my bully.”
However, he’s grateful for those times when someone stood up for him.
“It’s amazing when somebody demonstrates that they care, that they’re going to get involved,” he said.
What is also needed, said Koyczan, is for a larger group to take a stand against the bullies.
He’s hoping that the video will remind victims of bullying they’re not alone.
“The idea behind the project was really just to put an arm around the shoulders of those who need an arm around the shoulder,” he said. “It’s not a movement. Certainly there’s talk now of developing it, but I really just wanted a place where people can share personal stories and that can relate to each other on a personal level.”
Koyczan said people have reached out to share their stories with him after watching the video. He’d like to channel the positive stories he’s received and use those to move forward to help with the healing process.
He believes people must continue to address the issue of bullying because it makes a difference to the victims.
“It shows for the people who are being bullied, us talking about bullying and trying to find a solution. It tells them that we care about the situation,” said Koyczan. “It’s not something that’s fallen on deaf ears.”
A total of 80 animators and hundreds of people volunteered their time to work on the project.