I recently attended a financial conference in which Diversity and Inclusion was a serious focus at the conference. I was a witness to how people of different persuasions and backgrounds brought each other up and moved each other forward. Everyone was accepted and no one was left out. In the past, I have attend events or functions in which I am the only one that looks like me. I can assure you this is lonely and feels like an uphill battle. In any event, I am professional enough not let that stop me from moving forward.
I also like to share stories, especially when they involve my children. My sons and I recently went to Target where we encountered JAMES. James was a 6’6” white man, in his early 20s and of slender build. What was unique about James was that he had an athletic prosthetic left leg and was missing most of his left arm. When I saw him I automatically thought of the Aussie Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius-- before all of his fallout.
If you have kids or do any type of mentorship, you also know that those who look up to you have a way of exposing your flaws. My flaw was that I had no significant interaction in my past with someone who had physical disabilities. I also knew my sons were going to expose my flaw immediately. I took this chance life encounter to take myself outside of my comfort zone.
As we walked up to James, my sons were already asking me questions about him. I also noticed that many people were staring at James because of his physical attributes. I encouraged my sons to ask James questions directly, but they were too shy. When we spoke to James I told him that my sons thought that he was a celebrity because of his cool leg and they had never met anyone like him (nor had I). I went on to ask him if it would be appropriate to inquire about how he came to acquire his cool leg and how his arm got to be the way it was. James blindsided me and my boys by telling us that his new physical attributes were at his choosing. James went on to tell us that he stepped out in front of a train in some sort of stupid immature male interaction to show his bravado and got caught. He was hit by the train on his left side. He had to have significant medical treatment to survive and function in life again. He also took this opportunity to speak to my boys to tell them to always do the right thing or bad things can happen. He was also an introvert and hinted that people often stare at him making him feel uncomfortable and passing judgement. He thanked us for going out of our way to make him feel included even though we were dramatically different in our outward appearances.
After speaking to James, I immediately felt a connection because we were both prejudged based on the way we look. Often times, I walk into a place or establishment in which I know all eyes are one me because of the way I look. In certain rare instances I am greeted with the same common courtesy my sons forced me to extend to James.
My kids gave James just enough comfort to help him stand a little straighter and let others who were staring know that he was regular human being too. We can all be very different, yet face the same challenges in life. Thank you, James for letting us share in your journey in life.