When I started leading inclusion there was no lightning bolt that hit me from above and no parting of the Red Sea. I was a parent that wanted my son, who had multiple disabilities, to play soccer with other children in a town recreation program. It seemed simple enough but our dreams for inclusion were crushed when we were asked to leave the field. We were told we did not belong there and we needed to go to Special Olympics or a Challenger League.
What did this experience do to me? Initially, I was so angry at these people I could not see straight. That anger quickly turned to devastation when I looked into my four year old son’s eyes and realized he was completely crushed. I will never forget the pain in his eyes as I carried him off the field. Sadly, I began to realize this was not the first nor last time we would face exclusion.
However, if you read my book, “Include ME!” there was another side to the story. After being forced to move off one field, we walked over to another one. The coach on that field saw Jacob’s face and immediately got his son and other players to engage with him. They taught him a few things about soccer, played with him for a few minutes, and cheered him on. His tears of agony turned to sheer joy. The contrast between what we experienced on the two fields was stark. In less than 15 minutes I had experienced the best and worst in people. I had experienced the pain of exclusion and the joy of inclusion. Both emotions became equally engrained in my heart and I will never forget either of them.
As a leader, people will often ask what your vision is. They want to know why you do what you do and where does your passion and energy come from. My calling and vision came through loud and clear from the story above. When I left to go home that day, I never wanted another person to feel the agonizing pain of exclusion we had felt. Since then, there has been a strong pull from within that infiltrates every fiber of my being. It keeps pulling me forward and never stops. It was that vision that became my calling.
Visions are many times two fold. When you make your vision, think about the destination where you want to lead people, but also write down the reason why you have become so committed to leading your cause. That agony I felt carrying my son off the field stays with me. Sometimes it gets tough to keep your vision strong. That is when you remember your “why.” My "why" or vision is two fold: 1) Leading people to the dream of inclusion in the future and 2) Not going backward to the pain of exclusion felt in the past. Both serve as powerful motivations that keep me going forward through the tough times.
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All proceeds from the Include ME! book and donations will go toward our mission of promoting inclusion. Click below to purchase the book.