Danny Blevins, a kindergartener at Baxter Elementary, loves to dance. But, he also has Down Syndrome, a condition the Centers for Disease Control estimates one out of every 691 children is born with.
During Baxter High School’s “Spread the Word to End the Word” rally Wednesday, Danny introduced himself during a video presentation. It ended on a scene with a roomfull of his classmates, cheering him on and shouting, “Spread the word to end the word!”
The word? They’re talking about the “R” word.
“I’m not retarded. I’m Danny Blevins.”
The event was one of many across the nation and state that took place as part of the fifth annual Spread the Word to End the Word Day. The campaign, originating from the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit, pushes to eliminate the use of the word “retard” in popular culture and everyday life.
Six students felt compelled to action after finishing a unit on mental health disorders. With support from their teacher, Kelsie Engelken, the group proposed a student body rally to the administration.
The presentation focused on a plea for consideration. The students asked their peers to stop before they used the word and think of an alternative.
Marissa Schafer, a junior, asked the student body, ”What do you really mean when you use the word retard?”
Schafer and the other students explained that there are more effective and far less hurtful ways to make your point. They also asked for empathy, telling the crowd to imagine having the condition, or having a family member who did.
During one of a number of videos concerning the negative impacts of the “R” word, which featured a hip-hop song, Danny danced while the audience applauded. The assembly concluded with a call to action: Sign the pledge.
“I pledge to stop using the ‘R’ word because it hurts those with the condition and all the people around them,” BHS junior Katelyn Roush said.
More than 150 students and faculty members had signed the pledge to stop using the derogatory word by the end of the event. Monday, representatives of Special Olympics Iowa and Best Buddies Iowa met with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who signed a proclamation recognizing Spread the Word Day in Iowa.