It appears I’m coming late to the celebration that is Shane Koyczan’s poem “To This Day.” Koyczan is a spoken word poet, one I saw perform more than a decade ago at the National Poetry Slam. Now he’s become the voice of a growing anti-bullying project.
It began with the written words, then gained musical accompaniment through his band, Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long. That recording built a large enough audience to spur Koyczan to make a video. He arranged numerous animators to volunteer their work to the project. That video is quirky, a montage of different styles pieced together seamlessly; but it is beautiful. And it has received more than 12 million views.
The video is also a useful preview of the illustrated book that came out last month called To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful. This time, Koyczan gathered visual artists to each take a section of the text and illustrate it in their own style. Like the video, the illustrated book is a thing of beauty. The mixture of styles capture the different emotions of the poem and give a visual sense of the intonation Koyczan offers through his voice in the video.
The poem powerfully tells the story of Koyczan’s own experience with bullying as well as the stories of two others. Each story ends with a “to this day” refrain that emphasizes the lasting effects of the bullying – a hatred for associated things, a stilted self-image, an ongoing struggle with rage and depression.
The stories are full of the ironies of bullying. When Koyczan’s school nurse thinks he’s being abused by his grandmother, he is removed from the house while a full investigation takes place, but when other students abuse him verbally, no action is taken by the adults. Koyczan reiterates that psychological wounds are no less painful or permanent than physical ones.
The book also includes anecdotes from some of the illustrators about their experiences with bullying. Some were victims, others were bystanders who regret not intervening, one was the bully who now recognizes the hurt she caused. The effect is to make anyone touched by bullying feel less lonely.
The book would be a fantastic addition to school libraries, from elementary to high school. The video would be welcome in classrooms talking about bullying.
I am grateful Koyczan’s voice has found such complementary artistry to raise awareness and empathy to victims of bullying and to help victims understand they are not alone. Strongly recommended.