When I Stood Up to My Marine Drill Instructor About Using the R-Word

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I’m not here to criticize the United States Marine Corps on how they train new recruits. They’ve been doing it for more than 200 years so they must know what they’re doing. My intention is to give an account of how  standing up for people with intellectual disabilities is possible even to arguably the scariest individuals you can imagine.

Here’s what happened: During a period of instruction on Marine Corps values, I answered a question that, while technically correct, wasn’t the answer my heavy (a Marine term for the drill instructor tasked with making life extremely difficult) was looking for. “You must be a [R-word], Mitchell.” 

The look on my face must have revealed the disgust and disapproval I had for his choice of words. In boot camp, this is a big no-no. The drill instructor told me to stand back up and explain my inappropriate reaction. I yelled in my best recruit sound-off voice, “Sir, this recruit is offended by that word, sir.”

I think there was about three seconds of stunned collective silence in our squad bay. It felt more like five minutes, though. My drill instructor kicked over a footlocker, ran right up to my face wearing his signature Smokey the Bear hat and began to use everything in the book to get at me.

When you’re in boot camp, the only thing you have is the fellow recruits in your platoon and your family who writes to you. My brother, Chess, has Down syndrome, and throughout my life, I avoided taking a stand against people who made fun of those with intellectual disabilities.

But on this particular day, I couldn’t take it and had to say something. I got chewed out as a result. A couple of days later, the senior drill instructor asked me about the incident, but no recourse was really taken. I do remember during my last days of training introducing my drill instructor to my brother at family day.

brother with Down syndrome hugging marine

Again, it’s not my intention to vilify the Marine Corps drill instructors. Those men and  women are a vital part of our nation, and it’s their job to prepare our next generation of Marines. Drill instructors are consummate professionals at all times. They’re trained not to discriminate against any recruits based on religion, ethnicity, country of origin or race. In my explanation to my senior drill instructor, I explained that no drill instructor would call a recruit the N-word, which is just as offensive to me. 

The reason I’m putting my experience out there is to show that even though standing up against someone who uses the R-word can be frightening, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that this moment will be etched into that person’s memory. 

I don’t know if my instructor ever used that word again. He probably has. My platoon saw me stand up for my brother. They might laugh thinking about it, but the story sticks and they’re reminded that the R-word is offensive and wrong. 

When you’re hurt or offended by someone using the R-word, don’t be afraid to let them know. If they defend their use of it, there’s not a lot you can do to help them. But maybe if enough people keep letting them know why it’s wrong, they might change over time.

Spread the Word to End the Word! You can head here to pledge to stop using the R-word. It’s a step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.


Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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The Important Point This Photo Makes About Siblings With Down Syndrome

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When Hayley Stanley posted a photo of her daughters on Facebook, she never expected it to become a viral sensation.

“Obviously I do think it’s a beautiful photo and just had to share it,” Stanley told The Mighty. “But I was very surprised at the reaction and all the comments and shares.”

Stanley, from Bridgend, Wales, took the photo below of her daughter, Hollie Evans, who is 7 and has Down syndrome, holding her baby sister, Lillie, in the bath. Stanley posted it on the Special Miracles — Down syndrome Facebook page on July 6. Since then, the photo has been liked nearly 200,000 times and shared more than 8,000 times all over the Internet.

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Stanley says she’s happy for the opportunity to raise awareness.

“We always had the ‘Oh, I’m so sorry’ phrase given to us when we told people Hollie has Down syndrome,” Stanley told The Mighty. “We’ve read on pages that people think they might be a burden on their siblings, etc., so we want to show that children with Down syndrome are just like any other children and siblings. Hollie adores both Poppie, 4,  and Lillie, 6 months.”

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Hayley Stanley with Hollie, Poppie and Lillie.
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Madeline Stuart, Model With Down Syndrome, Is the New Face of This Brand

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When Damian Graybelle first heard Madeline Stuart’s story on Facebook, he knew immediately he wanted to work with her.

Graybelle is the president of a new fashion company called everMaya, and he thought Stuart, a model with Down syndrome, would be the perfect face for his company.

“We’re trying to do something unique and different,” Graybelle told The Mighty. “We want to make people feel good about the products they’re using, and having Madeline represent the brand just reinforces that good feeling.”

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He got in touch with Stuart right away, and just a few weeks ago the model shot an ad campaign for the brand in Australia.

Graybelle founded the clothing and accessory company with the goal of bringing high quality products to people, but also wants to keep philanthropy essential to the company’s mission. That’s why everMaya company is donating 5 percent of its profits to fund educational opportunities for the indigenous children of Guatemala, where the products are made.

“Working with Madeline, I’ve learned how it wasn’t easy for her. She had to overcome a lot to follow her dream of being a model,” Graybelle told The Mighty. “We want to help others do the same.”

Check out some photos from the shoot below:

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everMaya / Graham Cowan
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everMaya / Graham Cowan
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everMaya / Graham Cowan

Visit Madeline Stuart’s Facebook page to keep up with her. 

Related: Madeline Stuart, Model With Down Syndrome, Now Has Her Own Doll 

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Baby With Down Syndrome Signs With Same Modeling Agency as His Mom

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Micah Quinones is already following in his mother’s footsteps.

Micah’s mother, Amanda Booth, is a hugely successful supermodel. Despite being only 11 months old, Micah is already going into the family business.

Amanda Booth
Via Instagram
Amanda Booth's baby in a striped shirt
Via Instagram

Micah, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome when he was 3 months old, has signed with the same modeling agency as his mother, ABC News reported. He and his mother seem to share an innate love of the camera.

As soon as the camera comes out, he looks right into it,” Booth told the outlet. “Everyone says to [Micah], ‘You’re just like your mother.”‘

Amanda Booth and son
Via Instagram

Booth, 26, has been modeling for 10 years. She’s worked with everyone from Nordstrom to Lancome and says she’d love for Micah to be able to work alongside her all day, especially because the new mom is still nursing.

My hope is that he realizes he can have any dream of his own,” Booth told Mother Mag. “I know that he knows he’s going to have to work a little harder than most at certain things. It just means that we will all appreciate every moment so much more.”

Check out some photos of Micah and Booth below:

Ms. Booth's son micah in a highchair
Via Instagram
Amanda Booth and baby looking into camera
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baby between knees looking into camera
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amanda booth and baby outside
Via Instagram
booth and baby lying down
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booth and baby on vacation with sun hats
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booth and baby sunbathing
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To see more photos, visit Micah or Amanda Booth on Instagram.  

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I Asked Him Not to Use the R-Word. He Said I Can't Change the World.

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I heard it. It wasn’t the first time my coworker had used it so nonchalantly. I froze. My heart began racing. There it was again. That word.

“Retarded.”

I was frozen. I couldn’t react. By the time I could, it was too late. My coworker had moved away and I was still too raw to approach him. So I stewed. I mulled. I replayed the moment. Imagined what I’d say if that word didn’t burn so badly.

I messaged a friend for advice and devised a plan, and then I had to put it into action. I was fearful.

The last time I confronted someone about that word it ended horribly. There was anger and cursing and tears. I knew I could stay calm. It’s been a year since my son’s birth and Down syndrome diagnosis. I could handle this.

I approached my coworker.

“Hey there. Could I speak to you for a moment?”

“Sure,” he responded.

“I’m sure you don’t mean to be hurtful or disrespectful…”

He stopped what he was doing and looked at me.

I continued, “You use the word ‘retarded’ often, and I’m offended and hurt by that word.” I hurried through. “You probably are unaware, but my son has Down syndrome and that word is hurtful to people like him with developmental disabilities and to their families. I would appreciate if you could refrain from using it.” Phew. I got it all out.

He looked shocked and confused.

His response was, “Uh… OK.”

Well, that was better than an argument.

I turned and walked away, but I didn’t feel empowered. I don’t know what I expected, but “Uh… OK” was not it.

As I reflect on the situation, I’m glad I said something. It would’ve eaten away at me had I not. I wish he received my message better. But who knows, maybe as he reflects, he will.

A woman smiling at her son, who had Down syndrome.

In the last year, I’ve learned many things, and one of them is to have a little tact. I’m still a work in progress, but I’m my son’s biggest advocate. In order to achieve acceptance for him, I need to speak up — but in a tactful and respectful way.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember everyone in the world doesn’t know what I know. They don’t live my life; they don’t understand disabilities. They don’t know how a word could cut so bad. It’s my job to teach them.

A while back, a friend responded to my reminder to not use the R-word after his seemingly insincere apology with, “Becky, you can’t change the world.”

But I can! It’ll never change it if I don’t try. When women wanted the right to vote, someone probably told them the same. Yet a group of women changed the world.

When the African American community wanted equal rights, I’m sure they were told they couldn’t change the world. But they did!

So why not me? Why not the Down syndrome community? We can change the world, one person at a time. Until people realize just how hurtful it is to use the R-word in a negative way, I will continue to educate and advocate.

I will continue to try to change the world until my last breath. I’m a Down syndrome mom; it’s in my job description.

A woman and her son.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Daughter Had Open-Heart Surgery

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Two years ago, we woke up like any other day at 5 am, but this day wasn’t like any other early morning.

Three days prior, we’d been told that without heart surgery Eden wouldn’t see out the week. She was 10 weeks old.

We arrived at the hospital at 6 am. I had my tissues with me since I knew I’d need them. Eden passed all of her checks, and I filled out the paper work, which included a waiver of responsibility if she were to die on the operating table.

We waited in the wings cuddling our girl until the nurse came to collect her. I hadn’t cried any tears yet. Would the handover would be my undoing? I kissed her and handed her over. We watched as she was carried beyond the doors. I didn’t cry, but instead felt a sense of relief that her condition was no longer my responsibility.

Eden had two large holes in her heart, and open-heart surgery was her only chance to live. Her surgery was supposed to take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, so instead of sitting around watching the clock, we left the hospital and went out for breakfast. (I know, I was as surprised as you are.) After breakfast we shopped, we laughed and we joked. It was like we were on a holiday. While we were at the shop, I turned to my husband and said, “Is this wrong? It doesn’t feel wrong, but shouldn’t we be worrying or praying or something?”

Suddenly, Philippians 4:7 came to mind. I’d known that scripture for years, but it wasn’t until this day did I truly understand it. I believe “the peace of God” was guarding my heart and mind, which is why I didn’t cry. I knew at this point all would be OK.

About five hours after we left Eden, we received a call from her surgeon letting us know her procedure had gone well. We made our way back to hospital.

When we saw her in her room, there were millions of wires and lines (no exaggeration) keeping her tiny body alive. Sure she was in ICU, but she had made it and I couldn’t get that grin off my face. Over the next two days, she would reach some major goals in record time. I was already counting the moments to bust her out of there.

But the next three weeks would prove to be some of the most challenging weeks of my life. Here are a few things I wish I’d known:

1. Don’t just prepare for surgery, prepare for recovery.

We were prepped for a 5 to 10 day stay, but not everything went according to plan. My zealous “home by the weekend” attitude was shattered with a three-week stay. From the practical side of things to the emotional side, I needed more clothes, more books to read, more visitors and more prayers. I say overprepare!

2. Not everything will go to plan, but the end result can still be the same.

After the initial ICU stay, Eden’s recovery slowed. A residual leak was discovered, and a cardiac catheter and blood transfusion were also required. She still recovered, but it took longer, involved a lot more drama and sucked the life out of me. Expect the best but know the realities.

3. Get out of the hospital.

Three weeks in the hospital felt more like six months. Any chance you get to leave and have lunch or dinner with a friend is is a definite must. Our hospital also had volunteers who would sit with your child while you’re out showering, grabbing a coffee or making a call. After Eden was stable and on the mend (be it ever so slowly), our hospital let us take her out for a walk to soak up the winter sun.

4. Don’t underestimate your own knowledge.

You’re the one sitting at your child’s bedside for 90 percent of the day. Your expertise is valid, and you must speak up to nurses and doctors about what you know. From nurses’ shift changes to doctors’ rounds, be present, stand up and be a part of what’s happening. I made sure I was present when the doctor stopped by. I was always alert and ready about the day’s plans. Don’t hang back, be part of the process.

5. Be prepared to step in.

You are your child’s advocate, and no one has their interests at heart more than you. I had to step in more than once when I didn’t agree with how a health provider was caring for my child. Here’s a tip: Nurses will tell you what your rights are when you don’t agree with some hospital procedures for your child. You just have to ask.

Two years on, our girl is fighting fit and tackling life head on. The hospital stay feels like an eternity ago now, but pieces of it are etched in my memory forever.

Ruth Usher the mighty

A version of this post originally appeared on Perfect by Design x2.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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