Jessica Martindale and Anastas Nenov, 2014 Northgate Homecoming king and queen. Photo courtesy The Newnan Times-Herald

Crown adornes student with disabilities


Pictured above, Jessica Martindale and Anastas Nenov, 2014 Northgate Homecoming king and queen. Photo courtesy The Newnan Times-Herald

Note: Robert Perske passed away in August 2016.  We loved the articles Robert submitted to Apostrophe. Below is the final article he wrote for Apostrophe. He will be missed! 

In the early 1960s, I worked in a state institution for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities. In those years, I can recall how Thanksgiving and Christmas were the grimmest days of all. As many staff members as possible were given these two holidays off.

So, early on these high days, a skeleton crew of staff helped the young residents to walk, hobble or be wheeled to an empty ward that had been turned into a chapel. They watched a moving picture called “The Ugly Duckling.” It was created by Walt Disney and narrated by Jiminy Cricket.

Robert Perske is a citizen advocate. He is a street-court-and-prison worker who focuses on people with disabilities who have been wrongly convicted in America’s criminal justice system.

Robert Perske

Although the young inmates saw the film many times, the staff members knew it would grab them again.

I can recall how those young people leaned forward each time that spunky “ugly” duckling tried to move in and play with the other ducks and then be chased away. But he was a tough little guy. He kept coming back.

Finally, a mother duck charged at the little guy and shouted “Don’t you understand? You don’t belong to us! Go away and stay away!”

The kids in the chapel sat quietly in their seats as they watched the little duckling walk away with shoulders drooping and tears in his eyes.

But later, a new group of waterfowl ran up to the duckling and invited him to dive in and swim with them. Then the mother of the flock said, “You belong with us! You’re a swan!” The little guy said, “Belong? A swan? You mean I’ll grow up to be like you?” The mother said he would.

When that happened, the kids in the chapel clapped and cheered! They did it even though their lives were still controlled by admonitions like “you can’t,” “you don’t” and “you won’t.” But that happened years ago.

Now, times are changing.

Have you noticed how many students with disabilities receive a crown as kings and queens at their high school fall homecoming celebrations? Both television and the newspapers wrote glowingly about:

• Gus Ashbury and Hannah Keen (Dunwoody High School, Dunwoody, Ga.)
• Anastas Nenov and Jessica Martindale (Northgate High School, Newnan, Ga.)
• Phoenix Gilbert (Enumclaw High School, Enumclaw, Wash.)
• John Toriello (Ridley High School, Ridley Township, Pa.)
Ali Hoch and Wake Mullins (Henry Clay High School, Lexington, Ky.)
Katie Ball (Waukee High School, Waukee, Iowa)
Joel Kafer (Johnston High School, Johnston, Iowa)
Trayjuan Hunter and Semone Adkins (West Orange High School, Winter Garden, Fla.)
Ean Kates and Salmha Delgado (Santiago High School, Corona, Calif.)
Tyler Fitzgerald (Fenton Township High School, Fenton Township, Mich.)
Dallas Young and Maggie Mayo (Merced High School, Merced, Calif.)
• Melissa Andrade (Ontario High School, Montclair, Calif.)

These people possess a wide range of developmental disabilities and are far from being seen as “pity cases.” Student body officials voiced the valid reasons why each was chosen. And what was said prompted the spectators in the grandstand to rise to their feet and cheer.

They have become our royal swans! There are and will be many more. Bring on the crowns!

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