A 9-year-old Highland Park boy is going after bullies, one cotton T-shirt at a time.
Brett Blesius, a 3rd-grade student at Lincoln Elementary School, says he was inspired to design the shirts by anti-bullying signs he saw in a drugstore and a show he saw on the
He said he told his parents "I didn't think that (bullying) was right to do and I want to stop it. . . . I told my dad I wanted to make a shirt."
Brett explained there are three kinds of bullying — verbal ("when you say something mean to someone"), physical ("you push them and hurt them") and cyber ("like mean texts"). His T-shirt features drawings of the three levels under a "SAY NO TO BULLYING" headline. The figures are faceless, Brett said, to show "it can be anybody."
The shirts, available through a
) set up by his father, Ponch, sell for $15. They went on sale in April and have found an audience, already selling four dozen shirts.
"The whole thing happened so fast," said Brett's mother, Leslie. "This started on one level, to bring awareness to his class. But word got around; it just blossomed. We thought, what a great project, then everything else happened. It's so innocent, and now it's growing."
Brett's classmates, he says, like the shirts. He was asked to explain the project at school and students had a class photo taken of them wearing the shirts.
"They're telling their friends from other schools" about the T-shirts, Brett said.
The shirts will also be getting exposure this summer at Camp Ojibwa in Eagle River, Wis., where director Denny Rosen has long pushed anti-bullying initiatives, and where Brett will be attending a four-week session.
"We've always called camp 'Vulture-free,' " Rosen said. "(The logo) was a vulture with a cross through it to indicate we don't allow anyone bullying anyone. After Columbine we had 'Don't Laugh At Me' (an initiative of several programs), which was started by
. This year, Ponch's son designed these shirts and we'll use them."
Rosen is having a banner made based on the T-shirt design, and the 300 kids at camp will be asked to sign it. "If the child signs it they get a shirt, and I'll ask them to remember this every time they wear the shirt."
"A nice thing," Lesie said, "is kids from so many school systems will converge there, so they'll all get the message."
"Bullying isn't time-sensitive," Ponch pointed out. "It never stops being around. I love the fact that he's the one who brought this to light."
Society, Brett said, needs to face the problem more aggressively.
"We have to stop bullying even earlier than this. Some kids even kill themselves because they got bullied and don't like their lives. So we have to stop this sooner."