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October is Anti Bullying Month. Sadly, we in the SWS and Birthmarks community know all too well about bullying and the impact it has on our lives and of those we love. The SWF and Positive Exposure have been partnering for years to celebrate our differences and leading awareness campaigns. We have directly and intimately seen the impact of celebrating our differences on the lives of our kids/young adults. They have blossomed into confident individuals who are giving back to the next generation with what they have learned so far in life.

They have learned that when someone is attempting to bully them, the invectives and slurs are really more about the bully abuser. It doesn’t mean that every day is hunky dory or profoundly depressing, which is typical for all of us, but it means that they become intrepid at checking into their feelings and how to best reset them. They know there is a whole foundation filled with thousands of people who are wise, caring and willing to support, guide and teach. It has been a great privilege to watch the young adults with SWS grow into their own and to watch their loved ones grapple with tough choices and come out more confident too!

When I was in middle school, we had just moved from Chicago to Dallas. I was and probably always will be a chubby checker type girl who is bashful, so moves were trying, but with each one I gained confidence. I remember in middle school gym class you had to change into gym clothes and I was self conscious about dressing with all the girls so I dressed behind a curtain…the showers were ANOTHER story! Anyway, there was a skinny long legged black girl named Jackie Henry. She took it upon herself to make jokes at my expense and basically make my life miserable. Weeks went by in the new school year with the same routine in gym class until one day I’d had enough! Jackie’s back ended up on the cement wall near the showers with my face up close and personal with her face. In no uncertain terms, I told her what I thought of her mean words and physical intimidations. I still can recall how scared I was and the wide eyed look from that girl! Interestingly enough, once Jackie and I had our “moment” we became  besties laughing and joking the rest of the year. Looking back I can see how her gangly young body and being black in the South had to be a tough row to hoe too. If I had been mentored to “use my words” or the school had anti bullying programs like they have today, I’m sure I could have had a better response to the torment. Live and learn and love that’s all we can do this life!

Fast forward to today. Our childhood experiences DO color who we become as adults and how we react to life around us. Having a child with SWS or a birthmark takes us by surprise, and prior to the SWF, there was no place to turn to for tips on coping and how to guide them to become empowered individuals in the face of adversity. The SWF brings together thousands of people from around the world with diverse backgrounds to share their experiences to enrich all our lives. This sharing and connection impacts not only our loved ones with SWS or a Birthmark but us too. The SWF connections can teach us how not to let our childhood insecurities and hurts color our primal need to shelter our child with SWS the way WE would react but to let them learn  and evolve to react in their own way.  Our friends and healthcare provider relationships reinforce appropriate coping mechanisms and communication tools that set up our children to confidently succeed in a very visual society and to stand up to bullies.

I’m so proud of all of you! I’m grateful Jackie Henry put a fire in my belly to stand up for my unique self…there’s only one me and only one you. We must agree to disagree. We must celebrate our differences. We must respect individual opinions while not denigrating the individual. We must respond in love…for at the end of our days our memorable moments are those where we have sown love amidst discord and healed hurting hearts.