Spread the Word and Sundance

I was tabling in Red Square a few Marches back as a student at Georgetown. Red Square was a safe place for students to converge and share their heartfelt views via flyers, sidewalk chalk, and demonstrations. It was conveniently located in the almost-center of campus, trafficked by droves of undergraduate and graduate students day in and out. A ripe place to spread the word.

Alongside other Best Buddies  participants, I was tabling to spread the word to end the derogatory use of the word "retard", a word that has become all too common, used to implying someone or something is less or flawed in our society. Joining other advocates of the Spread the Word to End the Word movement nationwide, we had a petition to be signed by passer-bys.

"I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."

While we were received rather positively overall and gathered many signatures, there is one encounter in particular that stands out in my memory. A man started to question us about his First Amendment Constitutional right to freedom of speech. He was outraged by this entreaty to end hateful language. I was a little younger then and likely more docile from what I can recall, but with the arrival of the R-Word's annual day of awareness (March 5, 2014), I am moved to offer my take on the matter yet again. 

To the abrasive man from Red Square, I say...

We must not misconstrue a right for an obligation. We are indeed protected by the Constitution of the United States to speak as we wish, and to use whatever language we have the opportunity to use. After all, words are nothing but letters strung together in sequence. What is conveyed and implied by these words, however, affects other people. Rights are sacred, but need not be abused. 

I have the rights to behave combatively,  to spew hurtful speech, berate, and break down others if I want to. I have the ability to behave like an imbecile, to lie, steal, and cheat. A perversion of our Constitution can protect these behaviors as well.  More important than rights is an obligation to  be a decent human being. The right to do something in no way requires that behavior. 

So yes, the man in Red Square can use the r-word if he lacks an alternative to use in it's place, but I would challenge him to consider the impact of his speech. To reflect on how the world will receive his words and challenge the ostracism of talented and vibrant individuals worldwide. I fell fervently that eliminating the use of the r-word will diminish the divide cast between populations of varying abilities. We will celebrate our differences rather than condemn them.

A takeaway. This video speaks to the courage of a spirited young boy with Down Syndrome. Fueled by his family's love, acceptance, and encouragement, Beau made it all the way to the Sundance Film Festival for his role in LITTLE ACCIDENTS . I don't know of many people who have achieved the same; I see nothing but abilities here. Do you? 

A Best Buddy

The sun was shining magnificently during the Student Activities fair my freshman year of college. I wandered around the lawn, from table to table, club to club, trying to discern how I would spend those four formative years of my life. Although I had an inkling of the organizations I was looking for, I tried to be open-minded to the whole experience. Thankfully, my future found me.

Kate was sitting at the Best Buddies table, smiling ear to ear; her warmth drew me in immediately. She was the Buddy Director for the Georgetown chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that facilitates one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual disabilities.  Kate spoke with unmatched enthusiasm and her spirit was contagious. I signed up for Best Buddies on the spot.

My first year of Best Buddies, I was a general member. The years following, an Activities coordinator, College Buddy Director, and eventually the Chapter President. All the while, Kate was by my side. We planned Best Buddies events, baked our fair share of cookies, and drank more than enough chocolate milk at our favorite coffee shop, Saxby’s. Sleepovers, High School Musical sing-alongs, and chicken finger dates brightened my college experience.  Kate and the greater Best Buddies population restored my faith in people.

My original understanding of volunteerism was all wrong, I came to realize. I had initially thought that we volunteer to give of ourselves, but I was always on the receiving end of the service with Best Buddies. I came away from every encounter a better, more genuine and whole person. To this day, Kate shares with me an incomparable vitality. She lives with purpose, embraces everyone she encounters, and is never without a smile.

Although I graduated from school two years ago and have since moved away from Washington,  Kate and I talk on the phone weekly and write letters to one another. She is extraordinary at keeping in touch. Another testament to how deeply she cares about the people she loves. How abundant her capacity is to make people feel significant and valued.  While schedules prevent us from getting together as frequently as I would like (Kate’s social calendar is and always has been extensive), we are still able to have sleepovers every few months, thankfully. Homemade pizza, Scrabble, pajamas, and movies always make for the perfect girls’ night.

I couldn’t have imagined the world Kate would open for me when I was just a freshman looking to belong.  She gives me a fresh perspective, honest advice, and the very best hugs.  Kate reminds me to take life as it comes and simply do my best. There are never pretenses or motives. Kate is free from these unsavory habits that litter a great part of our society. Some may say that Kate has a disability. To me, she has nothing short of every ability that is truly worthwhile.