The following article ran in the Washington Post. It’s the story of a young man with an intellectual disability; a high school senior who managed to erase a stigma. The school district is my own… My son attends the elementary school… My heart is bursting with pride…
Please read, and yours will be too:
“Disabled have a dream, too
Chubbs Stillman, a special education high school senior, would make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proud. When Dr. King invited Americans to rely on “soul power” to fuel his dream, he could scarcely have imagined how Chubbs would use it to change a small high school in Missouri.
It all became clear on the night of January 4 when a Kirkwood High School basketball game turned into Chubbs’s very own showcase of righteousness. If it had been an ordinary game over the holiday break, the crowd would have been sparse. But all it took to fill the gym on that cold night was the word from Coach Bill Gunn: “Chubbs is going to play.”
Students turned out in droves. The stands were packed. It seemed as though every kid at Kirkwood wanted to be there to cheer for Chubbs Stillman. It had never seemed to matter that Chubbs was in special education–that he has an intellectual disability. He was going to play varsity, and the student body was united in excitement.
In the preceding four years, “Chubbs” Stillman had never suited up for a single game at Kirkwood. According to his mom, Ann Stillman, he’s an outstanding player. But when he tried out for the team, he didn’t make the cut. “He wasn’t bitter,” his mom said. “The plays and the strategy are so complicated in high school basketball. Chubbs just couldn’t keep up with all that. He just turned his attention to being a great manager and for the last 3 ½ years, he’s enjoyed it very much.”
But during those years, Chubbs did far more than overcome disappointment. He did something in high school that few people like him have ever been able to do: he overcame the prejudice that dominates the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Chubbs became popular.
In some ways,that’s unprecedented because the prejudice against people with intellectual disabilities is the most persistent and stubborn prejudice in the world. Still today, people with intellectual disabilities are routinely excluded, institutionalized, and denied basic opportunities. By the time they reach high school, most people with intellectual disabilities report that loneliness is among their most heart-breaking problems. Name-calling persists and often leads to deep emotional scars. An insidious discrimination abounds as people are routinely devalued.
But Chubbs Stillman has a kind of “soul power” all his own. Using his natural warmth and his endless positive energy, Chubbs has made Kirkwood an island of acceptance and inclusion. In 3 ½ years, Chubbs won over his peers with his own dream of a more welcoming world. “Everyone loves Chubbs,” according to his mom. “He likes everybody and is happy to see everybody. That’s contagious.” At the annual friendship dance, Chubbs was Homecoming King. In the hallways at school, everyone tries to get a second of Chubbs’s attention.
And in the game on January 4th, Chubbs played beautifully. He passed, he scored, and with the seconds ticking down, he drilled a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the game. The crowd went wild and stormed the court. Chubbs’s whole family was there and watched with amazement as Chubbs was carried around the floor on the shoulders of his peers. Cheers were mixed with tears. The good kid had finished first.
A high school 3-pointer may not seem like an important step in social change, but I think Dr. King would understand: Chubbs Stillman is a leader of a civil rights movement too. Somehow, he changed the way people think, persuading teenagers to see the content of his character instead of the score on his IQ test. He’s a modern-day changemaker–a one-man force for fighting intolerance.
And give credit to all those students in the stands at Kirkwood too. I often hear people complain about this generation’s lack of political commitment, but those kids figured out that justice isn’t just for governments but for them too. They’re the ones who have learned to see beyond disability to “diffability”–to see that Chubbs has different abilities but abilities nonetheless. Many of them will graduate from high school having learned among the most important of life’s lessons: everyone has something to offer. No exceptions.
So on this MLK day, I’m nominating Chubbs Stillman as my favorite example of a man who is keeping the dream alive. His mom reminded me that she feels blessed in countless ways. “People have warmed up to Chubbs and loved him. We are spiritual people. God has had a lot to do with it.”
God had a lot to do with Dr. King’s dream too. Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything grand to cooperate in a blessing. Sometimes, it’s as easy as cheering for the good guy and reminding the world that everyone deserves a chance to shine.”
BY TIMOTHY SHRIVER