He is Bob Levinson. I work with his daughter, Sarah. And this is a story about little things, big things, and something beautiful that exists inside even the largest corporations.
Pink Shirt Thursdays
For years, Sarah’s family has been trying to raise awareness so someone will act to free her father. Bob was working in Iran when he was kidnapped and, since then, there have been occasional videos and reports so they know he’s alive. (You can read more details here.)
In the 1990s, when her father worked in Miami, he started a tradition of wearing pink shirts on Thursdays and ultimately the entire office did it. So Sarah decided to try and get people at our office to do it, too.
“The goal is to get as many people as possible to start wearing pink shirts regularly on Thursday and then publicize that to whoever might listen. It would be great if we could even ask people to post pictures of their teams wearing their pink shirts...so I can collect and share all the images”
Then Sarah sent me a note asking if I would write a blog about it on our social platform at work.
Would it matter?
I used to think small gestures didn’t matter. When I’d see people raising money with bake sales and the like, I’d think “you’d be better off just writing a check.” My cynicism would be piqued on seeing people changing their avatars or re-tweeting expressions of support. And writing a blog post seemed trivial compared to the gravity of her father’s situation.
But what I completely overlooked is the value of solidarity. The value of someone doing something, even a small something, for someone else.
A little thing like choosing a certain shirt color on Thursday could lift someone’s spirits for a moment, or even a day. Collectively, we could give Sarah and her family a story for a lifetime. And each time someone mentioned our pink shirt, we could tell them the story of Bob Levinson.
What happened next
So I wrote a short blog post. At first, there were a few initial comments of support. Then, the following Thursday, a woman in Germany posted the first photo of herself in a pink shirt. Then another person posted and soon came the first team photo. Word was starting to spread.
“Let’s turn this place pink!” someone commented.
Within a few weeks, there have been almost 5000 views and 200 comments. Photos of more and more teams from around the world all wearing pink. Of the catering staff in pink. Of families in pink. Even someone on holiday got their group of 18 people to all wear pink.
And in addition to the photos, people began sharing their own stories of loss and solidarity. They were expressing their support for Sarah and her family as well as their sense of connection with each other, of our shared humanity even in the workplace.
“I can’t even begin to understand what you and your family must be going through, but what I can do is get involved, show support and help raise awareness.”
“...it has certainly made me more aware of my colleagues and how we can support each other”
“It was with enormous joy that I have read every caring post in this campaign. This is one of those moments when I feel very proud of working here”
Sarah posted a collage on her family's Facebook group “Help Bob Levinson” and keeps thanking people on our platform at work.
“It means so much to keep seeing this sea of pink shirts on Thursdays.”
Yes, it matters
The week I wrote the post, wondering if it would make a difference, my 3 year old son broke his arm. We rushed to the emergency room and, after 15 stressful hours, he had surgery. When friends and family found out, they sent me messages of support and best wishes for a successful recovery. They commented on Facebook. And while those messages didn't help Hudson's arm hurt less or heal any faster, they absolutely helped me and my wife. Knowing other people cared made a difference.
When I look at Sarah’s Facebook page, the stories her family shares are so bittersweet. There are wonderful memories coupled with the pain of loss and what might have been. I also see the support from a network of thousands of people. And that matters.
So I wear a pink shirt on Thursdays, sending Sarah my own message that I care and wish her the best. And that I hope her dad is safely home very, very soon.