Advocate in this great, big world.
Advocate: (n.) one who defends or maintains a cause or proposal.
When do you begin calling yourself an advocate? Must you apply for a position of power, standing before the courts on another’s behalf? Is there a job description that you must follow? Are there resume build techniques to become an advocate?
Perhaps you can advocate for a people before you can define the word. Perhaps advocacy can be knitted deep in your bones, a cry for a people that may or may not be able to cry out for themselves.
I remember growing up as an introspective child. The world moved me in ways that felt outside of the norm. My heart broke in places that often made me feel different. Looking back, that different is something I cling to as I take on this great, big world.
There was a time in elementary school when all of the other kids began using the “R” word. We all know it; maybe we have ashamedly let it slip a time or two: retarded. Chills shoot up my spine as I type the word. I can hear it like it was yesterday, children using this phrase incessantly… mindlessly. Though my life had never intertwined with a beautiful soul with extraordinary abilities, something inside me shattered each time it reverberated through the earth.
At that seemingly insignificant moment in history, my heart would forever cling to helping those who may not always be able to help themselves. At that seemingly insignificant moment in history, my heart would forever be indebted to those with abilities different than my own. In a culmination of frustration, brokenness, and love, my path began down a road of fighting for the rights of people with Down syndrome.
So I will ask again, how does one become an advocate?
For me, it is about seeing– truly seeing– the person with a unique ability. Advocacy is NOT:
“Oh look how cute they are!”
“They are just the happiest people on earth!”
“I wish I could hug without inhibition!”
No, advocacy is not any of these things because advocacy is about the person. It is not about making a spectacle out of a human being. To me, advocacy is seeing the person… the real person… embracing their emotions, quirks, opinions, decisions, jokes… celebrating in their successes and failures.
Advocacy, for me, is about appreciating the very aspects of their personalities that make them human… humans as much as I am. It is finding validity in the entirety of their personalities and encouraging them to express each facet.
Each day I wake up determined to make a change. Each morning I open my mind to new opportunities for advocacy… new opportunities for growth. It seems like every time the sun rises, I see a little more of myself in their eyes.
I see how their moods change like the tides. I see how they want to be loved and needed. I feel how they desperately want to participate in the things we take for granted. When I watch a person with Down syndrome move through his or her day, I see a macroscopic picture of what I, too, need in this great, big world…
… a place to be heard.
I am an advocate, and I will fight until all people with Down syndrome are simply known as people.
To read more from Hailey Alexander, you can visit her blog at An Alexander Adventure.