Kindness Campaign turns adversity into action

Josh Yandt (fourth from right) with LHS parents and the School Action Team.
Josh Yandt (fourth from right) with LHS parents and the School Action Team.

In late October, a Grade 10 student at Leaside High School was viciously assaulted by a former LHS student while a group of Grade 12 LHS boys surrounded him and watched.

What provoked the older students to plan this organized attack? Was it the fact that the younger student called out the “bullies” of Leaside and LHS? Why didn’t even a single student step in to help, but instead stood by, while blow after blow prevented this young student from escaping? Why did the boys run when a passerby stopped to help the young boy bleeding profusely?

How can we, as a community, change the culture of standing by to one of caring – and acting to support one another?

There is hope that the tide may be turning. The Toronto District School Board’s code of conduct states: “The TDSB is committed to creating school learning environments that are caring, safe, peaceful, nurturing, positive, respectful and that enable all students to reach their full potential. Every student has the right to learn and work in an environment free of discrimination and harassment.” The board adds that it has a zero-tolerance policy toward bullying.

Josh Yandt speaking at the “kindness” assembly at Leaside High.
Josh Yandt speaking at the “kindness” assembly at Leaside High.

A “kindness” assembly as part of a #kindnesscampaign, held fittingly on Valentine’s Day at Leaside High School, reinforced that message with a powerful appearance by an inspiring young man named Josh Yandt, also known as “the door man.” (More on this name later.) His story went viral in 2012 after a CBC National journalist (and Leaside High School mother, Ioanna Roumeliotis), reported it.

A difficult upbringing with an alcoholic and abusive father followed by the early death of his father took a heavy toll on Josh. An undiagnosed thyroid condition also affected Josh’s ability to fit in at school. The result was repeated bullying by his peers.

“I was tired of not being seen by others,” he said. “People saw me as easy prey because I was afraid to stand up for myself. I became depressed and suicidal.”

In a video, he is quoted as saying: “I was sick and tired of being a no one. I wanted to be someone. And I wanted to reach out to people and show who I was. Being nice should be the norm. It’s not something I expected to stand out.”

A move to London, Ont. meant a fresh start for Josh and his family and it was then that he felt the need to reach out to his fellow students through a small, kind gesture which had a very big impact. Josh began “opening doors” for other students at his school as a way to inspire kindness – and it worked.

“I realized by helping others, I was helping myself. Daring to be kind and giving a little bit of your heart to others helped me to overcome my fears.”

Since the CBC story aired in 2012, Josh has travelled all over the world as a motivational speaker sharing his story and inspiring kindness wherever he goes.

Asked by a student in the Q and A section of the Leaside High kindness assembly what he would say to his bullies if he had the chance, Josh replied, “I would forgive them because everyone makes mistakes and no one knows what they might be going through.”

After the assembly, Leaside High School Vice Principal Craig Haid thanked him “for surviving and sharing your important story.”

As part of this initiative presented by parents, school administrators and Leaside High School’s School Action Team (SAT), students are being encouraged to perform three acts of kindness a day and post on social media under the hashtag #kindnesscampaign.

“As parents we are determined to help develop a culture of empathy and kindness in our children’s schools,” says Ioanna Roumeliotis.

Article written by Susan Poaps.