Embracing Our Differences: Creating a Brighter, More Inclusive World

                                                            Embracing Our Differences

     For the last two years, my husband and I have loved seeing the beautiful billboard-size posters on display at Bayfront Park, Sarasota, Florida. This year I wanted to know the source and found a poster describing this nonprofit organization based in Southwest Florida with a website named embracingourdifferences.org. I went on the website and found some fascinating facts. Writers, students, and artists create 50 artworks and quotations worldwide. The artwork and quotations are separate competitions judged by volunteer committees and matched together for this exhibit. These competitions are derived from 125 countries, 44 states, and 584 schools.
     The posters displayed were inspirational, thought-provoking visual art, and the organization’s mission is to create a better world. Quotes about the artwork are added to the displays. One of my favorite is a quote by a 7th grader from Pine View School in Osprey, Florida. Her name is Mina Atarodian. It says, “Diversity is making sure everyone is invited to the party, while inclusion is ensuring everyone dances and has fun.” These billboards use the power of prose and art to promote inclusion, kindness, and respect.
     When I read things like that, I shout, “Yes!” My heart is with the community of people with special needs. After teaching for 42 years, I knew it was not just a job, but who I am. This is what I want for my grandchildren, to learn the lessons of kindness, acceptance, and unity. That is the world I want my grandchildren to live in. That is the way I want them to live their lives. Seeing this art exhibit gives me hope for that future world.
     This also made me think, what can we do to embrace our differences? For one thing, we can find our commonalities. What things do we have in common? How are we alike? How can our differences help all of us?

     When I was teaching, we did an activity I called, “the friendship circle.” Seated around the kidney-shaped table were students of different abilities and sometimes neurotypical peers. I told everyone they had to compliment the people at the table based on their behavior, not the clothes they wore or how they looked. It took some practice, but then I realized my students started paying attention to other people’s behaviors and what they were good at doing. “Jason, I like the way you greet everyone when they enter our classroom.” We talked about the ways we are all alike and the ways we are different. Even when we are different, knowing our differences can make us better and show that we are stronger together. Embracing the richness of our diversity makes us all better people and fosters a brighter, more inclusive world.