I experienced inclusion before I knew the word. Growing up, Kelsey was my cousin, not a person with a disability we had to include. She had things that made her similar and things that made her different. Our family knew music made her happy and big noisy crowds annoyed her. We knew she loved riding on boats, but that they would need to be accessible. Like the rest of us, she had moments when she was super social and moments when she'd rather not be bothered. For our family, it was just natural to practice real inclusion.
But now that I've learned this word -- inclusion -- I think about it pretty much every day (in all honesty, I might be borderline inclusion obsessed). In my work at Unified Theater, we use the arts to spread inclusion. We've trained almost a thousand students on what it means think, act and lead inclusively. Those leaders have returned to their schools and implemented productions that have let over 6,000 young people experience real inclusion.
All month long Unified Theater engaged students from coast to coast to show how much they #LOVEinclusion (we even got help from some of our favorite inclusion-loving organizations: KIT, Stetson Associates, Trinity Rep, DoSomething, and Hartford Stage). Young people had a lot to share about why they value inclusion and what it means to them. They said words like togetherness, empowerment, belonging, happiness, equality, fun, individuality and community. They wrote phrases about "leaving nobody out," "giving everyone a voice," and "coming together" and "one for all and all for one." They talked about not wanting to feel alone or different. They drew pictures of hands holding, hearts, multicolored lunch tables, frowns reversed into smiling faces, and rainbows. They were eager to share their desire for real inclusion.
Real inclusion. That's what we strive for, what we all should strive for. Not nice inclusion -- where we give stickers or community service to kids for spending time with someone different. Not some inclusion -- where we only focus on the inclusion on one particular group. We want real inclusion.
We want the perfectly imperfect kind where you learn and evolve along the way. We don't want the one size fits all inclusion, but the kind where each person is treated (in Unified Theater speak) "as an individual and an equal." We love the kind of inclusion that rejects labels, embraces individuality, and challenges hierarchies. We want inclusion across all barriers of all types.
We want inclusive leaders who understand that as the world evolves so must inclusion. We need leaders who challenge their own assumptions of ability and help everyone around them do the same. Inclusive leaders embrace difference and celebrate individuality. We need leaders who navigate the complexity and nuances of real inclusion, who realize that inclusion isn't about a place or a partner but a culture and a mindset.
February is coming to a close but that doesn't mean our inclusion love fest will. Our students, staff and friends are pledging to go ORANGE for Inclusion all year long. We'll push inclusion in our Unified Theater groups, our communities, our workplaces, our schools and our government.
We pledge to:Open access; Respect others; Assume ability; Nix labels; Get included; and Embrace difference. Do you love real inclusion? Join us and #LOVEinclusion all year long.
We want the perfectly imperfect kind where you learn and evolve along the way. We don't want the one size fits all inclusion, but the kind where each person is treated (in Unified Theater speak) "as an individual and an equal."