By: Chris Warren.
Last week’s Twenty First Summer featured my thoughts about James, an impressive young man who has a heart and a brain and knows where he’s going. They must put something in the water in the midwestern USA. Or maybe they still teach kids about honor and respect and character. The evidence just keeps rolling in:
Today’s story of kindness that has exploded across the internet actually started a year ago: Three members of a middle school basketball team from Kenosha, Wisconsin walked off the court in the heat of the game to confront a fan of the opposing team who was heckling Desiree Andrews, one of their cheerleaders. Desiree, or D as she is called, has Down’s Syndrome. I’m not sure where the dividing line between ordinary sports event trash talking and cruel bullying is, but I am absolutely certain that mocking a Down’s Syndrome kid in front of a crowd of spectators is light years past that line.
The incident earned D three protective “big brothers.” She may not need them, though. Since the incident last year, she has won over the entire school in a way that indicates that the kids at Lincoln Middle School understand acceptance and inner beauty well above their grade level, so much so that they named the gym where this incident happened “D’s House,” after Desiree. It’s important to point out that this idea came from the student body, not the parents and administrators.
The cheerleading squad is a bitchy clique at most schools. Only the best looking, most popular girls make the cut, and they don’t let anyone forget what princesses they are. Is this a stereotype? Probably. But it’s not a completely unfair one. Let’s not fool ourselves: At many schools, D would not even be considered for a spot on the squad. Yet if one bothers to look past the superficiality that drives these decisions, giving her a chance makes complete sense. The real purpose of having cheerleaders is to stir up school spirit and create a positive vibe. Desiree has accomplished this goal almost singlehandedly. How on earth can anyone make an argument that she’s not a good cheerleader and role model for her school?
What is most beautiful about people like D is their authenticity. They don’t have a grasp on social conventions like the rest of us, so they are completely honest in everything they do and say. This can sometimes result in obnoxious behavior, but most of the time we get a person who is gentle and kind and childlike-innocent because that’s the way they really are. They are not capable of pretending to be anything else. People like D make terrible actors unless the part is to be themselves.
Probably without realizing it, D has forever changed many lives. The kids at Lincoln Middle School will go forward having seen for themselves the power of kindness and friendship and character. I’m going to be an optimist and say that kids today are mostly good. For every negative story about them that pops up in the media or on the internet, there are dozens of positive stories no one ever hears about. In that way, D is a cheerleader for her generation as much as she is for her team.
D’s friends both old and new learned early in life that kindness is more affirming than cruelty, befriending an outsider carries more rewards than risks, and both loyalty and dishonor will come back to you in proportion to how you gave it to others. It was not a planned lesson, but the most meaningful and lasting lessons never are. Years and years from now, as new classes of kids cycle through Lincoln Middle School, they will be told how and why “D’s House” got its name. It seems Desiree Andrews, the Down’s Syndrome kid who just wanted to be a cheerleader like all the other girls, has instead been given a permanent teaching position.