By Molly Sloss
Fourth Place, Grade 7-9 Division, 2006
Molly was an Honorable Mention in 2005 and 2007. She was our First DCPS intern in her junior year at School Without Walls. Molly, along with two other students, won a prize in this contest three consecutive years.
Grade 8, Alice Deal JHS
Teacher: Mrs. Ginette Suarez

Those who have seen me spend time with my friends know how really close we are. Hannah, Alice, Becca and I have a truly special relationship. We live through each other, our four lives make one. That is why we are all affected by issues that might concern only one of us. That is why I am concerned about the attitude towards children with mental disabilities; that is why we all are.

We once discussed the issue because Becca’s school had an idea to call people with disabilities, people with abilities. To her, this was focusing on the good things not the challenges in their lives. To Hannah and Alice this was a way of saying that this problem could be overlooked because there is nothing wrong with disabled people. This conversation turned Hannah’s poster-covered bedroom into a chamber of teenage emotions and tears. We are all extremely emotional about this topic because we’re close to a teenager with mental disabilities. This teenager is Jason Ceja, Hannah’s older brother.

Jason is the most joyful, welcoming person I’ve ever met. Whenever I see Jason he either hugs me or heartily shakes my hand with a huge smile on his face. He is excited by the smallest thing, and he brings that excitement with him everywhere. That is why I am confused. I’m confused about why this happy person’s condition can be used as an insult. I’m confused when people turn away and laugh at the first sight of someone like Jason.

Everyday at school I hear someone refer to someone else as retarded in attempts to insult that person. ‘Retard’ is a term thrown around casually by everyone. So, when I hear people say it as an insult I can’t help but wonder if they know the truth of what they are saying and why it is such a big deal. To them, retarded means stupid, dumb, or idiotic when it really is an offensive word for someone who is so far from “normal”, they are thought of as below average. They think that calling someone retarded is a way to get on their nerves but it is much more than that.

When kids use “retarded” they don’t think about the people they are referring to or what those people go through. It may seem to you that mentally disabled children are oblivious to the world as we see it, but sometimes the blurry view from their window is clearer than we think. However, when the wrong attitude toward children with mental disabilities spreads, injustice goes from calling someone a name to robbing a child of his life. About a year ago, a boy from Jason’s school who is also mentally disabled was riding his bike when came up to him and told him to give up his bike. Of course, the disabled child, having no idea what was going on, refused. The boy took Jason’s friend’s bike and his life with a gun he had in his hand.

These incidents happen because people feel it is all right to take advantage of someone with mental disabilities because they are different. Having the Ceja family as close friends really helps me to recognize that injustice. I learned from them that justice is openness to everyone. Justice is being unafraid to tell someone that they are being hurtful, no matter what they might say back. Justice is embracing the differences all around us and getting to know a person before judging them, no matter how cliché that might sound.