Getting better at things is something that we're all trying to do.
Sometimes, this comes naturally, without us even needing to think much about it. Those are the things we just love to do. Other times, we need extra instruction from teachers, parents, experts, or friends. We need guidance.
Then there are the times that we need a bit more than just guidance. We need a push. We need to make a pledge—a commitment to others that we're going to put in the effort to achieve something, even if it is hard. The kind of promise that people can come back to us and say, Hey, you said you would work on this!
This is what is behind the Kindness Pledge, a website started by an Ontario Grade 12 student named Abby Graham. After incidents of bullying took place at her school in Fergus, Ontario, she wanted to do something to help bring about change. She knew that people would need instruction and guidance, just like she did. And she also knew people would need to make a commitment, because these sorts of changes wouldn't be easy.
Even if that change was something as simple sounding as being more kind to others.
Abby talks about kindness
On her site, this commitment is made very clear: The kindness pledge is a promise that individuals, groups and businesses can take to make their communities more kind and inclusive.
We spoke with Abby about what the website is about, how it started, her own process of learning and changing, and how others can follow her example!
OWLconnected: What motivated you to start the Kindness Pledge?
Abby Graham: Ever since I've started school at the beginning of the year, we've seen an increase in violence, and not just in two people kind of disagreeing and getting into a fight. We're seeing a lot of hate motivated crimes towards marginalized groups, especially. After witnessing four of these events, it really hit home with me. I’m close to people that are in these marginalized groups. I just keep thinking to myself, When is it going to be [my friends] next? That was really the push to start the movement.
OC: That is obviously something quite serious.
AG: It’s not just [verbal, or using words] bullying—which is not a small thing either—it is crossing the line into physical stuff, as well. These acts were inspired by hate—it was directly attacking them for their gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, or their race.
OC: How is the Kindness Pledge designed to help and what is it trying to do?
AG: It is something that individuals, groups, and businesses can go through. The first step is to read a short, informational packet about what it actually means to create a kind and inclusive community. Then the second part is to read and sign the pledge. And the third part is what you're pledging to do—which is to take what you learned in that informational section and implement that into your daily life. Whether that's asking someone's pronouns, switching up the language you use, educating yourself on some of these topics [about diversity and inclusion]… anything that would just make someone around you feel more comfortable. That is what we're trying to achieve. We're trying to create a group of individuals who want to make positive change in our community.
OC: How did you go about collecting the information that makes up the pledge? What kind of research did you do?
AG: A lot of the information in that packet, I learned from school and from a student action group. I also have had the pleasure of being at a couple video conferences—one for radical change with United Way. And I was able to help the Indigenous student action group at my school when they were preparing for Every Child Matters Day.
A lot of these things I've learned, I just wanted to compile it all into one complete guide. Make it easy for people to access.
OC: What kind of feedback have you received so far?
AG: It's truly incredible. Seeing people reaching out saying, “Hey, I took the pledge and I really love this.” Just all these different people wanting to help out.
OC: These kinds of projects can be intimidating. What gave you the belief that you could do this?
AB: I have a wonderful support system through friends, family, and the teachers in my community. And a couple inspirations for me were the other people in my student action group. They're truly a wonderful group of people and they're constantly inspiring me to do good because they are so smart and have so much to offer the world!
Another person that really inspired me was my teacher, Ms. Currie. She is a fantastic teacher and really believes in you. She always said that you might not make someone believe what you believe, but you can at least plant a seed in their head and get them thinking. And that's the first step to educating people—to get people to think.
OC: What advice would you give to other kids who want to start similar movements?
AG: I've learned a lot during this process.
I think one of the biggest steps is just putting yourself out there. It can be very daunting, but the way I started this was just emailing the mayor of my town! “Hey, do you have anyone on your staff I can contact?” You would be surprised how many people will actually respond to your emails and want to be engaged with you!
Also don't be afraid to seek help. I never knew how to build a website and didn't realize how much money it was going to cost. So I had to look into how I was going to finance the website. Luckily, I had a friend that connected me with a group that was able to provide me the funding, but I also had to look into grants I could apply for. I had to look for people that had knowledge of WordPress [a web-based blog builder—we use it!], and of how websites work. It was a long, long process, but I am so, so thankful to have such an amazing group of people behind me.
OC: What do you want to do in the future? Has this experience has changed your plans in any way?
AG: I've always had an interest in social justice and advocacy, and I knew that that's something I wanted to pursue in the future. And I'm going to university for a degree in social justice. I'm going to be able to use this experience of working with so many different types of people and marketing myself to open opportunities.
OC: What you’re doing really is so many skills at once. There's a business, self-marketing, organization, writing and communicating …
AG: (laughs) Yeah, it's a lot!
OC: It is a lot, and you've definitely put together something really cool! Congratulations and thanks for talking with us!
AG: Thank you! Bye bye!