Cashel Gardner is on my mind, so I thought I’d write about him.
Cashel is extremely disabled, about as disabled as one can be. He can only move a finger. He can’t breathe, eat, move, or talk on his own.
Cashel created a video (with help from his parents, of course) for Everyone Matters, the campaign I launched two years ago to advocate for EVERYONE’s right to be who they are, as they are – without shame, judgment, attack or censure.
Pretty heavy duty stuff for a kid. But kids have a rough time today, which is one of the reasons you may be even reading this.
It’s not always a given in our society that we are all entitled to common courtesy and respect – and especially if you are disabled, someone with special needs, or don’t fit in with some narrow band of what’s comfortably acceptable.
We have been adopted in nearly a hundred schools that dynamically engages with kids with the dual message about acceptance of OTHERS as they are – and acceptance of OURSELVES, as we are.
In our campaign, we take a personal, visceral, highly-engaging approach. It’s an affirmation in a personal way about ourselves – saying, “Hey world, I’m me, and this is who I am.” Everyone gets into it, and the teacher posts the pictures or videos (above a certain grade level) on social media, as further validation with the #IAM selfie of affirmation.
Another of our programs is “The Everyone Matters Tree,” in which EVERYONE in that school eco-system traces their hand on paper, writes their name or something about themselves, and posts it on an enormous paper tree in a public space. When kids see that tree with hands of teachers, kids, kitchen staff, maintenance, secretaries, IT , and even a UPS deliverer – it sends a powerful message that EVERYONE matters in a way that is unique and unforgettable.
We have other activities, but you get the point. It also tackles the thorny issue of bullying and judging but in a pro-active way, by affirming in various ways that each person is entitled to his or her personhood and feelings, and by extension – the other person.
Telling a bully to stop doesn’t necessarily stop the action. But addressing the object of bullying, and emphasizing in visceral ways that they have the right to be who they are, and stand tall, without being shamed, gets at the same problem in a proactive, affirming – and hopefully, life-changing way.
Back to Cashel. He is someone who has every reason to feel a sense of despair and brokenness, yet on camera he tells us, with an electronic voice, how he celebrates life, and is happy with himself as he is. He tells us: “Please feel complete and perfect for who you are.”
And that’s what we try to show the kids with our project and movement– every child of all physical abilities, body types, skin color, skills, personalities and ethnicities.
HeathCliff Rothman is founder of the big-tent inclusion, dignity and empowerment movement, Everyone Matters. The social entrepreneur and former journalist’s previous campaign was a youth-engagement, issue-oriented video competition, Film Your Issue, which was supported by major tech companies as well as Barack Obama, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw and others.