Dear Mr. Tebow,
You made headlines last weekend after your foundation hosted “Night to Shine” proms in almost fifty cities across the country and in Kenya and Uganda. The “Night to Shine” proms were held simultaneously on the evening of February 13, inviting adults and teens with disabilities to participate in red-carpet events with dresses, corsages, fancy hairstyles, and dance floors.
First of all, I want to thank you for using your thoughts, efforts, and resources to include a population that is often left out of the prom– a quintessential event that is considered one of the most memorable nights of adolescence in America. People with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in America, and you are doing an amazing thing to give them the opportunity to enjoy this major life event. You have brought so much joy to the thousands of individuals with disabilities (and their families) who got to enjoy a night in the spotlight.
However, I want to encourage you to think about how to continue to push your foundation to promote full inclusion– our ultimate goal, as an organization that advocates for people with disabilities. When I think about my senior prom in high school, my favorite moments were not wearing a pretty dress or getting my nails done; the joy of the night had everything to do with the memories I made with my close friends and my school community as a whole. My prom was held a week before my high school graduation, and I loved the opportunity to spend one last night with my friends, my teachers, and my classmates to enjoy our final few days together before we went our separate ways.
Before the prom, my friends and I all took pictures. Some of my friends in my pictures happened to have disabilities. They were not invited to our pictures because it was “the nice thing to do”; they were invited because they were genuine friends. I was privileged to have been raised in a town where inclusion was the rule, not the exception, so I had had many opportunities in and out of school to get to know my peers with disabilities and build close friendships with some of them. I recognize that this is not the case everywhere. But shouldn’t it at least be the goal everywhere?
We all just want to be included, loved, and appreciated. Most kids, with and without disabilities, dream of attending their school’s prom. I know there are added challenges to supporting our friends with disabilities. However, instead of thinking about holding a separate event so that needs can be met, let’s think about a few ways to meet students’ needs at their own proms.
Imagine a student needs to be administered medication multiple times throughout the evening. Perhaps a donation could be made to provide a nurse to attend the prom, acting as a chaperone for all students but helping the student take her medicine when needed.
Let’s say there is a student with autism who has difficulty understanding when the event is over. Let’s provide him with a picture schedule to help him comprehend that there is a start and end time, and that at the end of the evening, everyone leaves and goes home. There are teachers (and often paraprofessionals, too) present at proms. If they are provided with proper training, there is no reason why they should not be able to help students navigate through a new environment at the prom.
In sum, Mr. Tebow, I am so grateful that you are keeping the special needs community in mind when you determine how to give back to the world. Thousands of individuals across the world created special memories at the “Night to Shine” proms that they will cherish forever. Thank you for doing that. In the future, I encourage you to also think about how you can use your resources to help our young people with disabilities become more integral members of our community. That way, instead of just having one night to shine, they will have countless opportunities to be fully-appreciated members of our communities whose talents are regularly in the spotlight.
Kids Included Together