contributed by Stevie Cromer

My oldest son, an 8th grader attending public school in Indianapolis, recently began a buddy program with a student with special needs at his school. Let’s call him Q.

This is Q’s first year attending a traditional school. He began in the fall with a limited schedule. Since then, the hours of his school day have increased to the extent he will be attending a traditional, full-length school day before too long. This is truly amazing, and a significant victory for Q and his family.

And, for the most part, it’s going well . . . except for a few incidents in the lunchroom and hallways with several mainstream students. There have been incidents where students have poked fun at Q, made inappropriate comments, or simply made him feel unwelcome or out of place. I believe these mainstream students saw barriers and differences with Q that created fear and uncertainty about what to say or how to say it. These incidents prompted Q’s mother to find a buddy for Q who at the very least could be a friendly and familiar face in the lunchroom and during the school day. That is where my son came into the picture.

Throughout our first conversation, Q’s mother and I both teared up. We also laughed. It was an incredibly easy conversation. I asked questions when I was unsure of something, and she answered with grace and understanding. There were obvious barriers, differences, between us, yet we communicated with kindness and respect. In the end, we are both mothers on a journey with the same end goal – to provide a safe, welcoming environment for our children and to teach our children to be a part, and even leaders, of that safe, welcoming environment.

There are barriers and differences that could separate nearly all of us in this world. If we look, we could find barriers creating enough fear and anxiety to probably stop anyone from talking to almost everyone. Be it race, religion, language, sex, physical or mental disabilities, etc. The list is truly endless.

When someone sees a barrier or difference in someone else and acts negatively towards them, I believe it’s not because they’re mean or unkind. But rather because they’re scared. Angry. Hurting. The barriers they see feel too threatening.

But, what if we don’t have to break down the barriers? What if we simply acknowledge them? Embraced them? What if the goal was to accept those barriers, rather than allow them to create fear? What if embracing the barriers ultimately made them crumble?

At our initial meeting, Q’s mother seemed so touched that my son was eager and excited to be Q’s buddy, and yet I think my son is the one who has the most to gain. Learning and practicing that our barriers and differences can be a “Welcome” sign, rather than read “Do Not Enter”, is something he can and will take with him throughout his life.

#LUNAlife  #nondiscrimination  #celebratediversity