Westport student becomes national advocate for tolerance
WESTPORT — Charles Kolin has always known he was here for a reason.
“Ever since I was born I’ve been instilled with a natural sense of confidence and self-worth,” Kolin said. “That’s because I was a surviving triplet.”
His two brothers were stillborn, and doctors told his parents his chances of survival were slim, but Kolin persevered.
“I beat the odds and from then on I knew I had a purpose,” said the 16-year-old Greenwich resident.
Kolin’s sense of purpose would lead him to advocate for national Unity Day, a day to promote solidarity and inclusion for all.
However, the Greens Farms Academy junior’s advocacy also came from a place of personal experience.
Kolin said growing up in Old Greenwich from fifth- to sixth-grade, he faced countless instances of bullying. Students allegedly made comments ranging from telling Kolin he’s worthless to stating he should kill himself.
“I would go into school and I would dread walking into the classroom or walking in the hallways because I didn’t know what they were going to say next,” he recalled.
For more information on Charles’ story and the Unity Challenge visit https://unitychallenge.org/
His pivot to advocating for kindness, acceptance and inclusion began once he transferred to Greens Farm Academy in ninth grade.
“The bullying ended immediately,” he said. “It was an environment that accepted me with open arms and really gave me a sense of confidence to go out and make this negative experience into a positive.”
With a renewed passion, Kolin would go on to excel as a student leader and member of the soccer team.
“Switching into this positive environment really fueled my confidence and my abilities,” he said.
With the support of his family and Greens Farms Academy, Kolin said he wanted to ensure others had a place for support.
While researching organizations and campaigns to find how he could help, he learned about PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in Minnesota. The anti-bullying center celebrated Unity Day to combat bullying.
With the permission of the PACER Center’s director, Kolin said he “Charles-ified” the day.
“Their Unity Day is more focused on anti-bullying, and my Unity Day is a day that encompasses anti-bullying, but is also a day where everyone comes together for kindness and respect,” he said. “... In contrast, Unity Day is where everybody comes together for something instead of everyone coming together against something. It also teaches someone in the process and creates a more positive environment where everyone wants to contribute.”
Kolin kicked off his unique approach to the day on Oct. 23, 2018, at Greens Farms Academy. The event included seminars and activities for the attendees.
After a successful inaugural event, Kolin decided to take his advocacy to the national level. Within the past year, personally meet with senators from all over the country with one goal — to make Unity Day a nationally recognized day.
In keeping with the theme of the day, Kolin made it a point to meet with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure a future bill would be bipartisan. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in particular was heavily involved in supporting Kolin’s cause.
“He loved what I was doing and he was the first person to say, ‘I want to write this resolution with you, and I want to support you the whole way through,’ ” Kolin said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., has also supported Kolin’s cause and will look to introduce the legislation in the House of Representatives.
“It’s really following the theme of what this day represents,” Kolin said. “They’re working together to promote this.”
While the momentous day has not yet become nationally recognized, Greens Farms Academy will again celebrate the day on Oct. 23.
“I think the Unity Day provides a safe platform for people to fall back on and realize there are people looking to make a difference in the world,” Kolin said. “It’s a place people could look at and see their support, and know they have allies that want to see them succeed.”
Going forward, Kolin will continue advocating for tolerance, kindness, acceptance and inclusion. He’s also utilizing a social media project called the “Unity Challenge” as part of his advocacy. Participants are asked to pick one of Unity Day’s themes — kindness, tolerance or respect — write the word on their hand, and post a short video on social media about what the word means to them.
“I think if everyone participates it can become something really powerful,” Kolin said. “It can push Unity Day off to something beyond one-day and become a year-long ordeal.”