By Julie Kayzerman
Ryan Herrington stood before a packed audience of students in the Education Building on Monday, March 2, and asked them to raise their hands if they’ve ever been bullied.
As a slew of people threw their hands up, Ryan explained that using the word “retard” is a form of bullying. He then asked that the “R-word” be changed to “respect,” a request that was met with a huge applause.
“Be an advocate,” Ryan said during his R-word monologue. “Never give up. Don’t be a quitter. Use Respect.”
With these words, Ryan kicked off “Spread the Word to End the Word” week at the College, hosted by Best Buddies and Students for Disabilities Awareness. Ryan is the 25-year-old brother of Evan Herrington, a junior special education and English double major at the College. Ryan was born with Down syndrome, but according to his brother, “We are more alike than different.”
“Ever since I can remember, my best friend has been my older brother, my role model, my source of inspiration and a giver of unconditional love,” Evan said in regard to Ryan, who was sitting front and center to hear his brother. “The fact of the matter is, he knows that he has Down syndrome, and you know that he has Down syndrome, but the thing that people fail to realize is that he knows, (and) that you know, that he has Down syndrome.”
Evan explained that his hero has had massive success in life, graduating from Point Pleasant High School, being on the Prom Court and acting as the captain of his ice hockey team.
“I realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have a Ryan to teach them about respect and dignity and love,” Evan said. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to be instructed firsthand why “retard” is the most hateful word in our language.”
The word retard was introduced as a medical term to use for someone with an intellectual disability. Since then, however, it has become an offensive term, often used to deem people as stupid.
“By using the word, you are destroying the dignity of the most innocent collection of people,” Evan said. “You are rejecting a group of individuals with the most to offer and teach.”
Following his words, Kerry Magro, national speaker and disability advocate, joined the College to deliver his own monologue. Magro, an eloquent and confident speaker, explained that he was diagnosed with autism at 4-years-old and wasn’t able to verbally communicate for several years. He was called the R-word and severely bullied in school – an experience that has stuck with him forever.
But Magro confessed to the audience that when he finally was able to communicate well and made his first friend, he wanted to do anything to prove that he was cool and could make even more friends. Ultimately, this meant calling someone else the R-word. As Magro admitted his biggest regret in tears, he explained that the shame he felt from that moment on led him to become an advocate.
“I can never tell him I was sorry for what I did,” Magro said, having lost touch with the boy whom he insulted.
Other monologues were delivered by Katie Burns and Daniel Lapidow, Career and Community Students; David and Diane Perry, Friends of TCNJ Best Buddies; Karrie Mikotowicz, a mother of a Best Buddies member; and Dr. Jerry Petroff, professor of Special Education at the College. While each speaker described their different experiences with the R-word, each united in the same message – the R-word must to be stopped.
As the event closed, Best Buddies President Rebecca Havens asked audience members to sign a pledge to stop using the R-word. Students will be given the opportunity to sign the pledge throughout the week during 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Brower Student Center.
Magro closed his monologue with an original poem titled, “I am Kerry and I have PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).”
“My name is Kerry and I have PDD-NOS. This means that I have autism. It does not mean I am autism,” Magro read. “My disability cannot define me. I define my disability every single day of my life.”