Hundreds of Ottawa families took part Sunday night in a new youth anti-bullying walk led by Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda – who's shown herself to be strong and resilient in the face of personal adversity.
The high-profile couple not only lost their first-born baby, a boy, earlier this year but have also been the centre of sensational press coverage surrounding alleged incidents of harassment and cyberbullying inflicted on them.
Life ain’t easy, and neither is having to deal with the emotional scars of being bullied while growing up, the crowd heard.
“Learning to explore, find, accept and love yourself is hard enough without other people making it even harder,” said Melinda Karlsson during her remarks. “Without being labelled, called names, abused, put in a box or judged – that’s why we’re here today.”
The Karlssons launched the inaugural Walk of Light at the Kanata Recreation Complex through their new initiative, Can't Dim My Light. The superstar defenceman stuck around to sign autographs and pose for photos while Melinda, who showed off her new lighter tresses, was equally as friendly with the public.
Afterward, there was a reception held for organizers and sponsors at Richard Valente’s Fratelli restaurant in Kanata.
The event, held on a clear and crisp evening, raised more than $40,000 for Proud to Be Me, a grassroots charity built on inclusion, empathy, kindness and mutual respect involving children and youth.
The Karlssons announced their donation of two PTBM “buddy benches,” which is a place for kids to go in the schoolyard when they feel lonely and don’t have anyone to play with.
One of the benches will be in honour of Jonathan Pitre, 17, a local boy of unparalleled courage. He passed away in April following his fight against epidermolysis bullosa, a rare and painful skin disease. The other will be in memory of Jamie Hubley, 15, who dealt with depression and bullying before taking his own life almost seven years ago.
Jamie's father, Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley, has since been an advocate for youth mental health and anti-bullying initiatives. He publicly thanked the Karlssons for attaching their names to the cause, assuring them that their involvement will help save young lives. He also jokingly put to rest the trade rumours surrounding the Sens captain by noting how Walk of Light is being billed as an annual event. Surely, the Karlssons can’t leave Ottawa now.
The crowd heard how the Karlssons have an ability to laugh at themselves, as demonstrated by both their tradition of donning fun Halloween costumes and Erik’s latest commercial for Swedish supplement company Gainomax.
“Unfortunately, it’s not always this easy when we feel like we’re being targeted, ostracized, harassed or are alone,” said Melinda Karlsson. “Right now, together, let’s decide that regardless of what’s happened to us, we’re not going to let them be right.”
She urged the crowd to never mistake anything a bully says for being the truth.
Erik Karlsson was joined by some of his teammates, including his predecessor, former captain Daniel Alfredsson. Popular morning show host ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz of Majic 100 participated with his family. Also seen were Mayor Jim Watson and retiring Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson. As well, there were such sponsors there as Darcy Walsh from public relations firm Edelman, Monica Singhal from Richcraft Homes, lawyer Natalie Raffoul from Clancy PC + Brion Raffoul and Emma Gilfillan, national account manager at Panasonic Professional AV.