LIVINGSTON, NJ — More than one hundred Livingston students and parents will participate in a pro-inclusion campaign to support togetherness within the community by wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Let’s Sit Together” during the school day on Wednesday.
The campaign was born in 2017 out of one Livingston mother’s idea to create inclusion and togetherness among kids and adults in the community and to fight bullying and exclusion in the schools. According to Deepa Pisupati, who initiated the campaign via Facebook groups like Livingston Moms and Ltown Lowdown, the campaign is meant to help the lonely kid who sits by himself at lunch or on the playground to make friends and to also show all children the power they have to bring positive change in the life of another.
Students and parents bought these shirts and vowed to wear them on Jan. 10 and (hopefully) once a week after that to create awareness on a regular basis, according to Pisupati. Onesies and toddler shirts were also available.
In order to further support the initiative to prevent bullying in schools, $1 from every shirt purchased was donated to Mallory’s Army, a charitable foundation against bullying that was founded in Rockaway following the death of a 12-year-old girl who took her own life. According to the Mallory’s Army website, her death was a direct result of “horrific bullying” from her peers.
“That was also one of the topics of conversation and a lot of people in Livingston knew the child, so we thought we should do something for Mallory and to help fight bullying because her mom is doing a great job,” said Pisupati.
Pisupati said that if even a handful of children in each Livingston school wear this shirt, it could encourage the shy, hesitant or excluded students feel safe to approach those kids and sit or play with them.
She also encouraged local parents not to force their children to participate in this campaign, but to explain what it is about, how they can help an excluded kid feel safe to approach them and how their decision to approach a lonely or shy child could be life-changing to that individual.
“Now, more than ever, we need all the help we can get to get this message across to the kids that being inclusive is the way to be,” Pisupati wrote in one of her early Facebook posts. “After recent events, I feel this project will be more effective if done at a grassroots level. Whoever is ready and willing to wear a shirt that says ‘Let's Sit Together’ is the right fit for this shirt.”
Although many of the school administrators loved the “Let’s Sit Together” idea, Pisupati and her supporters decided to run this initiative on a grassroots level rather than going through the schools. She said the students currently participating are mostly elementary school students and some students at Mt. Pleasant Middle School.
“My main goal is the elementary school kids because they’re still at an age where they can be taught differently, so I’m happy with the elementary-school level,” she said. “I think that’s where you can really spread the message very strongly and make it part of their personality—like, ‘inclusion is cool’ and ‘inclusion is really easy to do.’”
The idea to create the shirt stemmed from a Facebook post written by another Livingston mom, who saw shirts that said “You Can’t Sit With Us” while visiting a local Lord & Taylor. That mother convinced management to removed it from the store, and inspired Pisupati’s idea to counter that by having local children wear a shirt that might encourage other kids to reach out to them.
Due to patent issues, initial slogan ideas like “You Can Sit With Me” or “You Can Sit With Us” were turned down, but other parents stepped up to help find a slogan that was legal, original and unique to Livingston. Patent lawyer Mike Brown helped the group find the perfect slogan, and retired Livingston Public Schools teacher Rich Shue helped print and sell the shirts.
Pisupati, who described herself as a laid-back person and “the most unlikely candidate to lead anything,” said she is still amazed at how quickly this project spread to other parents and became a group effort in Livingston. She sent a special thanks to “the wonderful people of Livingston for their encouragement and support and for not letting this be just another idea.”
She also extended her gratitude to every kid and adult participating in this campaign; her partner, Chitra Rochlani, who designed the shirt and helped Pisupati stay focused and on course; Brown, the patent lawyer who helped Pisupati find the right words for the T-shirt; and Andrea Sargeant Noel, Laurie Greenfield Hauptman and Inna Yelisevich for their support.
“I would also like to thank the admins of Livingston Moms, Ltown Lowdown and Livingston Education for letting me use their groups to spread the message; all the moms who sent me awesome ideas; my wonderful, wonderful printer, Rich Shue, for doing an excellent job with the shirts; Allie Tucker, who is doing a great job with the toddler shirts and onesies; and last but not the least, my husband and kids for their constant encouragement and support,” she said. “I am deeply grateful.”
Follow the Let’s Sit Together Facebook page to support the “Let’s be inclusive, let’s be kind, let’s be tolerant, let’s be supportive, let’s make a difference, let’s reach out…LET’S SIT TOGETHER!” initiative.