Not all offensive words are packaged in four letters.
There’s a six-letter term, the “r” word, too often used in reference to people with a developmental disability, that offends 14-year-old Summer Brack and her family.
“There’s lots of words that are hurtful to people, but this is one of them that is to us,” Summer’s dad Kelly said.
For her 15-year-old brother Colton, who has Down syndrome, Summer posted a video on YouTube, the popular video sharing website.
Using written messages on pieces of paper, Summer created the 3:38 long video “Spread the word to end the word. Summer.”
In the video, Summer expresses her feelings about the “r” word:
“My big brother Colton, has Down Syndrome.”
“He is amazing! And funny, nice, sweet, strong, incredible…”
“I could go on forever about how much I love my brother.
So you can imagine how far I would go to protect him.”
That includes putting a stop to the r-word.
I hear this word at the least 20 times per day when I’m in school.
I’ve heard teachers, adults, kids, everyone, just throw it around
Like it’s nothing.
I’ve come home crying several times this year because of this reason.
Some of my closest friends still use the r-word in casual conversations… but it hurts too much to say anything…
So I let people hurt me every day and they don’t even know it
This is me finally saying something.
“I started it Saturday morning, I started writing the papers, but I didn’t do any rough drafts, I just kind of did it,” Summer recalled. “It took maybe two hours to do all of it.”
As of Wednesday morning, the video had close to 750 views.
Summer took this bold step because she’s passionate about eradicating the “r” word from the vocabulary,
“This past year of school has been really bad for the ‘r’ word,” said Summer, a Grade 9 student at Garibaldi Secondary. “Every day it’s like constantly, and it seems to be getting worse.”
The “r” word also impacts Garibaldi principal Grant Frend whose son Brady, a kindergartner at Alexander Robinson Elementary, has cerebral palsy with intellectual and physical challenges.
“So this is a matter near and dear to my heart, as well,” Frend said.
Frend saw Summer’s video on Saturday and communicated with her via Twitter. Frend was to meet with Summer to discuss plans for a Spread the Word Day at Garibaldi.
TIMES columnist Tim Tyler, whose son has Down syndrome, said the “r” word has gone out of use since the 1950s and 60s.
“Now [the ‘r’ word is] used in a derogatory fashion, not only by young people but by adults as well, even in the presence of people who have relatives with intellectual disabilities,” Tyler wrote, in an email to the TIMES. “The people who use these words are not always referring to someone with a developmental disability but to anyone who finds themselves in an embarrassing situation, much as they use the term ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’. It is ignorance to be sure and unfortunately our efforts to mainstream or integrate the intellectually disabled have not always had a positive effect on the users of these terms.”
Tyler praised Summer for standing up for what she believes in.
“It is a courageous step to take by a teenager who has to respond to peer pressure on a daily basis and be expected to grant respect to teachers and other adults who have used the ‘r’ word in her presence,” Tyler wrote. “If her campaign makes only a few people see the light on this issue, it will have been a success”
Summer said if she isn’t able to put a stop to the “r” word altogether, she hopes her message will make people think twice before uttering it.
Summer has support in her efforts by her close friends Carter Kipps and Angelique Pelletier.
Her oldest sibling, 22-year-old Tori, said hearing the “r” word affects the entire Brack family.
“I don’t think people are trying to attack somebody with special needs when they use the ‘r’ word, but when one of us hears it, that’s what it feels like,” Tori said.
A Garabaldi grad, Tori heard the word in high school and continues to hear it on the campus of her university.
“I even hear my professors say it,” she said.
About a year ago, Tori and Summer created a video on YouTube. Spread the word – Coly, which shows pictures of the two sisters with their brother.
“He’s awesome, he’s funny, he likes to goof around a lot,” Summer said, about Colton. “He’s super fun.”
Mom Liz says the “r” word remains ubiquitous, especially in the realm of pop culture.
“It’s still used in media quite a bit and in comedies, and people use it as a slang term,” she said. “There are lots of words in history that are obviously inappropriate and over time they were taken out of the language once people spoke up and said, ‘You shouldn’t use that word.’”
Liz says it’s not easy to stand up and say the “r” word is inappropriate.
“So I’m really proud of Summer being that 14 is a tough age, already, but to speak up and to say something… I recently went back to school as well and in a small group of people somebody threw it out there, but I’m at a point in my life where I’m going to say something,” Liz said. “I pointed it out that that’s not the best word to use and you don’t know who you’re insulting by using it, even indirectly.”
Colton is going through his Grade 10 year at Garibaldi and loves horseback riding, but isn’t much into sports. He’s a movie buff who loves spending time with his dad.
Visit www.r-word.org to pledge and tweet #spreadthewordtoendtheword.