R Is For Respect

All around the school, fliers have been popping up. Spread the Word to End the Word, they read, accompanied by a group of smiling teenagers sporting the slogan “I took the Pledge to promote respect!”  

Not many have taken notice, but the fliers are trying to send a message.

The word they refer to is “Retard,” a derogatory term for someone with a disability. Though rooted in medical terms, it has been taken from its original use and incorporated into everyday slang.

What some people are unaware of is that the word has a more serious effect on those who it refers to.

Thus, the campaign to end the casual use of the R-word began on its official site, www.r-word.org, which was put up in 2008. There is an opportunity on the website to take a pledge against using the r-word and discourage their community in using the word.

The campaign has been picked up at North, hence the various flyers that have been put up around the school, courtesy of Best Buddies.  

Best Buddies is an international organization designed to create personal support. The program does its best to help disabled students function more smoothly in society by helping them find employment and building personal relationships. Though they tend to cater more to intellectually disabled students, they do not limit their services to specifically them.

There is a Best Buddies program here at North, which pairs students together to build relationships. Peers are students who volunteer to hang out with a student in the Community Program at school that helps disabled students. Three times a week, peers are supposed to hang out with their partner, and stay in touch with them throughout the month. Events such as sports games or board game tournaments are held once a month for Best Buddies participants, complete with plenty of food.

Mrs. Fleener, the teacher in charge of the Best Buddies organization at North, is also involved in the Special Education Department, and teaches a pre-algebra class. She oversees the activities Best Buddies put together and attend, and gets to know the kids involved. The fliers were just one thing she has organized for the group.

The Best Buddies also have various other events every year. The Light It Up Blue Event took place on Thursday the sixth, to raise awareness about autism. Vanilla ice cream was offered with blue sprinkles, the official color of autism awareness. Participants were able to make picture frames with puzzle pieces painted different colors, and everyone was encouraged to go and have fun. More events will be planned, and information about them will be included in the morning announcements.

The Best Buddies organization at North began distributing the fliers around the school with the aim to eradicate the use of the word. Students had the opportunity to take the pledge and stop using the r-word. That event has since finished, but the website still lets anyone pledge, and provides personal stories and information about the effects of the r-word.

One mother, JoAnn Pine, decided to share her story on the official Spread The Word To End The Word site:  “My 50-yr old mentally handicapped son was 8, when I was helping get a group of older boy scouts ready for a trip.” She wrote. “One of them called another ‘retard’. I was furious. I made them all line up and told them how wrong that was, and they never know when someone listening had a child who truly had what we used to call ‘retardation.’ That is the word we used back then, and it was not a ‘dirty’ word, although it did sting to hear it used in such a way. They were embarrassed, and the scout leader said all the typical things, like, “they didn’t mean it that way”, etc. I hope he learned something, too. I should have known then, that the word would become one of the ‘should be abolished’ words. Words hurt more than blows.”

“I kind of heard about it [Best Buddies] freshman year, but it wasn’t as big of a group as it is now, or well-known,” said Olivia Thurmond, a senior and vice president of Best Buddies.   “There were some mutual friends that were in it, and I was just like, ‘Well, you know, I’ll just check it out,’ and ever since the first meeting, this is… just where I was supposed to be.”  

The push back against the r-word hasn’t been serious, but it has been persistent. Thurmond has experienced many people not understanding the level of hurt or damage the word can do. Even family members of the mentally disabled sometimes are confused about why the word has been discouraged. The campaign to end the word is not over.

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign will last as long as it needs to, it seems, and though the movement has not been in the public conscious for very long, there is definite support. Until North is a hate-free zone, the efforts will continue to end the word.

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