Spread the Word Rally
I was so honored to be the guest speaker at Woodmont High School for the Spread the Word to End the Word rally and wanted to share my speech with you. Thankful to be a voice and advocate for special needs youth across our Nation.
“Who in this room has ever met someone or has become friends with someone with a disability? It all began for me one day in middle school when I overheard a boy from my class using hurtful words towards a younger boy – a disabled student sitting at another lunch table with the special education class. The bully was mimicking the boy, grunting to imitate the non-verbal sounds the boy was making and he laughed hysterically as he put on a show in front of all of our classmates. I could feel my cheeks burning and I blinked back tears. As usual, I sat there feeling embarrassed, hurt and confused, alone with my dream that one day the world would be a different place where things like this didn’t happen. But for some reason, on that particular day, something new welled up from deep inside of me and I stood up. “That boy,” I said as calmly as I could, “may be different, but he is my brother and his name is Brock.” !
I am the proud sister of not one, but two siblings who are considered “different” because of their intellectual and physical disabilities and devastating medical issues that stem from Renal Fanconi Syndrome. When my parents told me as a child that Brock and Brantley would never be able to speak, walk, or be of “normal” size and ability, I felt so confused and frightened. Can you imagine being told that you will never play sports, go to prom, or have a semi normal life? Put yourself in that position to see how some of these students and families felt when they hear this news. When I saw people whispering and staring at my siblings I was crushed. When I heard children call them hurtful names like “weirdo,” “freak” and of course the R-word, “retarded,” I felt so helpless — I didn’t know what to do. Even after standing up to that bully, I kept wondering if the world around us would ever really change!
Despite the challenges and the way it may have looked from the outside, I knew that our family had been blessed with two wonderful gifts. My siblings have defied the odds and are living proof of miracles. I will never forget the day that I witnessed Brock not only walk, but RUN as he carried the torch!
at the Special Olympics Games! I watched with pride as Brantley competed in her high school pageant with confidence and grace and received the “Contestants’ Choice Award” and was named “Miss Sophomore Attendant.” Seeing all of the tremendous obstacles that they have overcome through the years inspired me to be their voice and help other children and their families whose lives have been impacted by obstacles and challenges.
In 2004, I founded Lindley’s Alliance for Disabled Youth, now a 501(c)3 organization, to raise awareness, funds and hope. Through projects, events and fundraising campaigns, I have been able to raise over $100,000 dollars for Greenville Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH).
One of the greatest aspects of being crowned Miss South Carolina United States is realizing that with the right message I have not only the voice, but also the ability to actually make a difference. While appearing on the television show Glee as a performer, I was introduced to a public service announcement called “Not Acceptable” starring Jane Lynch (“Coach Sue Sylvester”) and Lauren Potter (“Becky,” the student who has Down Syndrome). I was thrilled and completely blown away as I watched and heard the message that as a child I had secretly longed for someone to stand up and scream – using the R-word is not acceptable! I immediately embraced and promoted the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. I was surprised at how quickly I realized that the issue was even bigger and broader than that one, awful word.
The R-word is hurtful and painful whether intended or not. It is a form of bullying. Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. The R-word is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur. Almost 200 million people around the world suffer from intellectual disabilities, which means it is very likely that most of us have met or know someone with special needs.!
I was drawn to this program because it works to promote inclusion, kindness and respect. It is an ongoing effort by the special olympics, best buddies and our supporters to inspire this acceptance through raising consciousness of society about the R-word and how hurtful it can be toward people with intellectual disabilities. I encourage you to embrace these students, life them up and focus on their abilities and the joy and courage and passion that they bring to our world. My siblings are two of the most inspiring and brave people that I have ever known and they have changed my life in the best way possible.
This is something that every single person in this room can get involved in. Over 600,000 people have now taken the pledge to end the word and YOU can make a difference and change lives simply by pledging your support at www.r- word.org and you will even have the opportunity to pledge right here at school today.
In hindsight, the day that I finally stood up to that bully at school turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After he apologized for his words and I thanked him for understanding my frustration, I introduced him to Brock and they ended up becoming buddies! It was amazing to see that before long, Brock was being protected and defended by the same boy who had been harassing him just days before. That experience changed the boy’s attitude and it even changed mine.
I will never again sit in silence and fear while someone who feels different is being hurt, and while I cannot change the disabilities that my brother and sister must live with, I know that I am changing the way the world sees them. Together we can create sweeping changes in disability and “difference” awareness across this great country. Today, I dream about how truly amazing it would be for a little girl who wondered how in the world things could ever really change, to finally have within her reach the opportunity to go out and actually change the world!
Lets stop focusing on the disabilities and focus on the abilities of our incredible special needs friends. We are all different in our own way. Lets replace the r-word with RESPECT!
If you have your phone with you, please go to Facebook and like End the Word. Also, follow Lindley’s Alliance and Lindley Mayer on instagram. Tag your photos taking the pledge and promoting inclusion and I will choose 5 winners to repost and share on my social media pages today! 🙂 Use the hashtags #respect #endtheword #woodmonthighendstheworld
Remember: “Language affects attitudes. Attitudes impact actions. Make your pledge to End the Word today.
I am Lindley Mayer, and I pledge to replace the R word with respect!!”
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