It seemed likely, after the August 3, 2019, mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart claimed the lives of 22 people and left 24 wounded, that the Texas border city would be remembered by history and its largely Latino citizenry as the site of the deadliest attack on Latinos in modern American History.
Then came the moving visit by members of the "Pink Socks Tribe" to the bilingual Dr. Sue A. Shook elementary school to show that love and caring are the healing antidotes to hate.
By the time the November 18 and 19 visit of four leaders of the tribe to the school had ended, 1,337 pairs of pink socks, paid for by donations from members of the tribe around the world, had been passed out to students, teachers, and staff during two moving student gatherings, a morning one for the older kids and an afternoon one of younger grades.
But before sharing further details of the story of this special moment for children, teachers and all the staff at Shook Elementary, who had zero degrees of separation from the pain and the loss caused by the shooting, it's important to tell the story of Pinksocks Life Inc.
It's a nonprofit that describes its role as "promoting authentic human connection around the world. In addition to empowering people from all walks of life to connect with anyone, anywhere, by creating a global tribe of pink socks-wearing people who are focused on empathy, caring, and love."
If that sounds like an intriguing mission, consider the two tech executives who launched the pink socks movement in 2015 at the same time as, but unrelated to, their seeking investors for their Portland tech company.
Nick Adkins and Andrew Richards, both then Portland residents, met on LinkedIn and co-founded ReelDx, a video-focused medical-education company for which they wound up spending a lot of time in Silicon Valley seeking customers and raising money. It was during that time that they launched pink socks.
They soon moved on to other roles as the company shifted direction, with Adkins moving to Pittsburgh and Richards to Spokane, but they continued their pink socks commitment.
I first met Richards three years ago when I did a column about his being hired as College Technology Incubation Officer at the then-new WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, as I described it in the column as "an unusual incubator to nurture new healthcare technology."
Then as Richards and I were at breakfast in Spokane a month ago, I learned the story of the pink socks first hand.
"When I was thinking about the fact the world has come to be a place where everyone, of all ages, is walking along looking at their hands, it occurred to me that it was important to somehow get people to look each other in the eye and acknowledge the connection," Richards explained.
So he decided to put on the pink socks and, as walking, he says "someone asked, what's with the pink socks?"
To which Richards says he replied: "They are meant to have someone ask that question while they are looking me in the eye and connecting." Then he handed the person a pair of the pink socks, whose feature is an array of black mustaches interspersed on the pink with black puzzle pieces.
Adkins recalls that he And Richards went to a healthcare conference in Chicago in 2015 where "There more than 40,000 attendees and, having packed our bags full of what turned out
to be the crowd favorites every time I wore them - the pink socks with the mustaches.
"Every time someone came up to us and commented on our socks and asked us about them, we reached into our bags and gave them a pair of pink socks," Adkins said, adding, "when I gift the socks, I always look the other person in the eyes and say 'Every time you wear your pink socks you're going to make people smile! People will come up to you and ask you about your pink socks. That's your opportunity to connect with another person, that had you not been wearing your pink socks that day, the two of you would have missed each other in the universe.'"
We continued to attend conferences and hand out pink socks," said Adkins. "Some of the most important and influential people in healthcare have them.....even an astronaut who piloted the space shuttle has a pair!"
Richards estimates there are now about 100,000 members of the Pinksocks Tribe in the world in a movement that Richards notes has been "de-commoditized from its beginning in 2015 - all pink socks are gifts. Every connection made between the gift giver and recipient is based on an authentic connection, not a transaction."
In November of 2018, Ms. Blancas, the first-grade teacher at Shook Elementary, was teaching empathy to her students. She posted a video of her first-graders leaving the classroom and choosing whether to have a fist bump, a high five, or a hug to share with one of their classmates as they filed out of the room for the day. The majority of the kids chose the hug.
The video went viral and a member of the pink socks team noticed and after some contact, as Richards remembers, "we sent Ms. Blanca 32 pairs for her class and she gifted them."
Then came the Walmart shootings. Richards said, "I felt we, the pink socks tribe from around the world, had to send the school a message of love and support from all of us so we reached to find how many socks it would take to gift everyone in the school with the socks."
Soon came the arrival of four of the tribe board members to present pink socks to all. 'We walked in the door and started crying, overwhelmed by the school support," Adkins said. "It blew our minds."
He recalled that the first assembly had 600 older-grade students the assembly sang happy birthday to Ms. Blancas (Yes, it was her birthday). "Then the kids did the world's largest cinnamon roll hug ever, meaning everyone is hugging everyone at the same time," Richards explained.
The exponential ripple effect of goodness that these beautiful children in El Paso are creating across the universe through the timelines of their and our lives...that's the ROI of #pinksocks," Richards explained.