R is for Rebekkah: Celebrating a Significant Life

"Retarded"- I still remember the first time I heard someone use that word and understood what it meant. I was in 5th grade waiting for the bus in front of our little house in Macon, Ga. The person using the word was a boy with my same last name that I had to sit next to in class. He was not exactly popular and he was not exactly nice and he was making fun of someone else at the bus stop (who was not, in fact, "retarded").  But all of a sudden a light bulb went off in my head and I understood the population group he was referring to. And I was angry. Angry because he was a bully. Angry because my uncle, one of the funniest people I knew and owner of the best movie collection, also happened to be rocking an extra chromosome. That day I promised myself I would not use that awful word... ever. Years later I had a friend tell me,"it's okay if I use that word because, you know, I work with those kids, too." No, I'm sorry- it is not okay. 

 In my household the R-word is akin to the F-word. I will be more shocked and disappointed to hear that derogatory term come out of my children's mouths than any other (partially because my 2-year old has broken me in already with an inability to say "fork").

Retarded is defined as "stupid or foolish" and a "limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness" and "emotional development"(source).  I'm sorry but that is crap.The R-word doesn't work for me. I cannot reconcile that definition with a single person I know with special needs. These people are not just my students or acquaintances. They are my friends, my teachers, and my daughter's namesake.
Down Syndrome
A definition, a single word, a derogatory term will not describe them any more than labeling me a white girl teaches you anything about me. It may be the first thing you notice about me but I doubt it is the second or third thing. It is not defining. I realize that we as humans often are accidentally derogatory out of fear, misunderstanding, intimidation, and ignorance.
In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness month I want to replace ignorance and fear with knowledge and understanding. Allow me to introduce you, dear friends, to one little star that left me brighter for having known her.

As an idealistic college student I took a job as a summer camp counselor at Extra Special People, Inc. I was raised with a healthy respect and love for the special needs community but my years at ESP are what shaped and refined my heart and my passion. Those that left the most impact are part of the group I refer to as "the originals". When I joined the ESP family it was a humble community program started by a single woman with a big heart. With the strong leadership of a young dreamer ESP is now a household name in Athens, Georgia and making strides to become nationally known because of partnerships with the University of Georgia along with former QB1, Kansas City Chief's Aaron Murray, and The Bachelorette finalist, Josh Murray. But "the originals" are the ones that I started with my very first summer eleven years ago.

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