Today I want to take a moment to highlight and celebrate World Down Syndrome Day.
Isn’t it funny the things you remember in life? Particularly the things you remember from when you were young. Most of the time it is little things. For instance, I fondly remember the icicles that would form on our roof at one of my childhood homes. Time spent standing on the deck of our duplex watching the water slowly dripping from them. The sunshine’s warmth juxtaposed with the snowy surroundings and the smell of evergreens and crisp mountain air. All these years later, the aspens call me home.
In my formative years, my father began his PhD program, so we moved from high atop the mountains down to the foothills and suburbia. A modest split-level home at the bottom of a street with a steep hill became our new home. I remember racing our big wheels down the gravely road. I learned to ride my bike on that road and can remember my dad chasing me and cheering me on.
Across the street lived a little boy. He was sandwiched in age between my younger brother, had dark, straight hair and a welcoming smile. He loved cars and so did my brother, so they became fast friends. As a result, our mothers did as well and playdates became the norm. They usually included long bike rides, picnics, and trips to Eliches and Lakeside where we would ride the tilt-a-whirl and roller coasters. Our friend had the best toy. We would all argue over whose turn was to play with it. It was a car dashboard that sat on your lap and you got to pretend to steer the car in the backseat while your parents drove. It included a turn signal with lights and a horn that you could beep at all of the bad drivers.
Our friendship grew as we matured and things began to change. You see, our friend has Down Syndrome. For those of you who don’t know much about Down Syndrome, the scientific definition is that it is a genetic condition in which a person is born with an extra 21st chromosome. But I don’t want to talk about the scientific definition or the label. I want to talk about a person. My neighbor. My friend.
As you know by now, I use this platform to speak the truth of all who are marginalized and I would be remiss if I did not take this moment, on World Down Syndrome Day, to highlight this silently marginalized group. Did you know that people with Down Syndrome have a significantly increased chance of hospitalization or death if they contract Covid? Yeah, it’s true. Yet it took the experts almost a year to acknowledge this. Did you know that many people with Down Syndrome are subject to exclusion from educational settings, work opportunities, and even their communities? Yep, also true. I invite you to look at the statistics.
When I stumble upon this information, my mind goes back to a place of simplicity. I think of a neighbor with dark, straight hair, and a welcoming smile. Of arguably the owner of the best toy in the neighborhood. Moreover, of a person who has feelings, dreams, and an infectious laugh. On World Down Syndrome Day, I honor my friend and all those that face this type of discrimination daily and send this reminder into the airwaves: all are welcome.