Saturday, October 27, 2012


As I drove home earlier this week I listened to CBC radio interview with a remarkable young man named John Franklin Stephens. Frank, as he likes to be called, has Down Syndrome and he had responded to a slur by the despicable American social commentator Ann Coulter, who had tweeted that President Obama is "retarded." How low can this woman go? Frank was  thoroughly delightful in the interview and demonstrated great dignity in his response. He read the letter he sent Ms. Coulter and it moved me.

Dear Ann Coulter,

Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult? I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.

I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.

Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.

After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV. I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.

Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.
No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.

Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.
A friend you haven’t made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Global Messenger
Special Olympics Virginia

As people of the Christ who was able to see everyone as worthy of God's love and treated them with dignity, we can applaud Frank Stephen's exceptional witness.

Had you heard about this incident? Read the letter?

Solar panels on St. Paul's? Check it out.


Nan said...

Brilliant just begins to describe this young man's response. How eloquent and how meaningful.

Laura said...

We all should be so careful and care-filled with our words.

willowjakmom said...

I read about Coulter's tweet and I was trying to come up with comments of my own to fire back to her when I came across John's. Brilliant.

The 'R-Word' is one that our family is very sensitive to. It always surprises me when educated, thoughtful people say it in our presence, around my children. Our Jake is especially sensitive to it, and we have countless conversations about how to handle addressing it, especially with people we don't know well. We struggle with being angry and defensive, while trying to be mindful that many people are innocently repeating habits in language without even realizing they are hurting others. Usually when you know better, you do better.

In Coulter's case, this isn't so. Her response to the open letter was ""Look, no one would refer to a Down Syndrome child, someone with an actual mental handicap, by saying ‘retard.’ Where do you think the words ‘imbecile,’ ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ ‘cretin’ come from? These were all technical terms at one time. ‘Retard’ had been used colloquially to just mean ‘loser’ for 30 years,” Coulter insisted. “But no, no — these aggressive victims have to come out and tell you what words to use." So now Mr. Stephens and my family are aggressive victims??!!! It would be easier to ignore such hate if she wasn't being paid to spread her filth across the news waves.

In the past seven years since my boys were diagnosed, we have been on the receiving end of this awful word when it was used to make my boys (or us) feel Less Than. I must admit that my friends and family have been amazing in being very vocal about encouraging their own circle of friends to quit using this word so loosely in their vocabulary.

Has anyone else seen this amazing video? -- it says it best.

Forail said...

How incredibly thoughtful that young man is. He is to be commended on a response such as that.