Last week, my mom called to tell me that she found a poem of mine. This was a poem I'd written in high school about my brother. When she read the poem to me over the phone, I felt myself tearing up. It was a sweet, beautiful poem and it brought back many memories. (Note: just added the poem at the end of this entry)
For those of you who don't know, my older brother B was born mentally handicapped. I think the term now is developmentally delayed. But in 1978 when he was born, the term was severe and profoundly mentally retarded. He can't talk or understand very much. A lot of his behaviors are similar to those of someone with severe autism. B lived with us until he was 20 (I was 17), at which time he moved to a group home, where he now resides.
For many years, B attended the same school as my sister and me. Sadly, you probably won't be shocked to hear about how cruel many of the other students were about my brother. It's true that he couldn't really understand what the other kids were saying or doing. But I could understand. At least, I could understand what people were saying, not why they were saying it.
Now that I am an adult, it seems like every day I am reading or hearing a story about a young person that is a victim of bullying. Bullying seems to be on the rise and is becoming a serious problem in this country. My question is, how do these bullies get like that? Where does this hatred come from? As a mother and a former first grade teacher, I have RARELY seen young children spouting hateful things.
When I was a first grade teacher, I put a strong emphasis on building a classroom community. Bullying and nasty comments were not tolerated. I spent a lot of time reading books to them about kids who were "different"- kids from different countries, different races, different religions, and students with disabilities. Every time I read about Martin Luther King Jr., I proudly watched as my multicultural class joined hands. A lot of the pairs of best friends in my class were different races. They told me they couldn't imagine a world where they wouldn't be allowed to be friends.
Some years, I was able to work together with the teachers of the special ed class. We would get our students together to do fun projects on holidays. As a reward for good behavior, some of my students were allowed to sit at the table with students from the special ed class. Believe it or not, my students really saw this as a reward, not a punishment. Actually, some of the kids who usually gave me the most trouble in class were the one who really loved this reward. It made me proud to hear my children begging me for a chance to sit at that table. A far cry from the things I heard from the other students when I went to school.
Sometimes it seems like I am hearing hateful things everywhere. Grown people making anti-Semitic comments, anti-gay or racial slurs. Even presidential hopefuls. Why is this still acceptable?!?!? I didn't accept this from 6 year olds so why do I hear it from adults? I guess I answered my own question from earlier: where does this hatred come from?
In honor of tomorrow's holiday, Martin Luther King Jr day, I ask that each of you mommas work hard this year to teach your children acceptance. Let's teach our children that it's okay to be different. In fact, let's teach them to embrace these differences and stick up for others who are being bullied. Personally, I know I will be forever grateful to the friends who always stood up for my brother.
Maybe if we all work together, we can stamp out hatred forever. Wouldn't the world be a beautiful place?
He doesn't speak.
He doesn't seem to hear
Or to understand
But he is a person.
It's not his fault
That he was born this way.
People taunt and make fun of him anyway
But he is a person.
He cannot read or write,
Or have a conversation .
Yet he seems to have emotions.
That is how we know that he is a person.
He can smile and laugh.
He can scream and cry.
He is capable of loving,
Just like any person.
He likes to be kissed and cuddled,
And I love him with all my heart.
He deserves all the love he can get,
Because he is a Special Person.