All is silent, as if our presence has done some wrong. Slowly, whispers fill the air, discussing this unusual occurrence. I used to be embarrassed, for myself and for the rest of us, but the challenge of finding pride in it all was all the more rewarding.
I remember walking into a building, any building, be it a restaurant, a shopping center or a synagogue, and noticing the stares. The two gossiping women in the corner, the rabbi and the cashier would lift their heads and strangely acknowledge my family’s presence. I remember thinking, “What could they possibly be staring at? Are we that beautiful?”
It wasn’t until junior high school that it hit me. “I have two African American brothers and three sisters with Down syndrome!” It wasn’t a shock for I’ve lived with these people, my brothers and sisters, for my entire life. Consciously, I knew what they looked like, but it simply wasn’t important. Even today, on a daily basis, I don’t realize the diversity of my family until I see my brother picking out his afro while I catch myself thinking, “S—, I want an afro!”
As a child, I dealt with minimal teasing. After all, my peers often thought that having black brothers was “cool.” As for my differently abled sisters, their presence was bound to draw attention, however, it became normal to cope with it. From early childhood, it became unmistakably clear that I loved my family, regardless of what the rest of the world thought of us.
It is of course frustrating to deal with the ignorance of people. “Black jokes” and “retarded jokes” were never humorous to me. They were simply things I’d frown upon. It was hard to turn away from the group of kids bashing “retarded” children. but I like to look at myself as a leader, and my morals enable me to lead by example.
It was once embarrassing, dealing with all the stares. However, it is my belief that embarrassment accomplishes nothing, and pride strengthens everything. I take pride in my family, and I love the way we choose to live. Let the gossipers and shoppers stare. Let them see my pride, my happiness and our love. Let them know that we function as any other family functions.
Source: Jordan Fried was a junior at Williamsville North High School in Williamsville, NY. He is the white non-adopted sibling of two adopted African American brothers and three white adopted sisters with Down syndrome. The article was originally published in the Buffalo News, December 14, 2005. It is reprinted with permission.