I wanted to spew a stream of obscenities, shout out, "An eye for an eye" and give everyone Jell-O shots, but, I knew that's not what these parents needed (well, maybe the Jell-O shots).
So, instead of focusing on those awful, terrible defendants, I focused on the young man, the victim and his family. I talked about this young man’s vulnerability, I talked about his torment and I shared my hope that one day he will be able to recover and overcome such hatred and ignorance. I also spoke of the fear and anguish his parents must have felt when he was missing and how quickly those feelings must have been replaced with a short lived joy that he had been found, and still more heartache after seeing the video of his torture.
I also told these young parents that the four defendants cannot take away their hope. That as parents, every one of them, first and foremost, must advocate for their child, that until their child finds his or her voice and is able to advocate for him or herself, their voice for acceptance and education must be heard the loudest.
I told them to be proactive. To role play and practice scripts with their child of what to do if someone is hurting them. I suggested that they go to their local police, fire, and EMS and educate them about their child and educate their child about community helpers in a non-emergency situation. To reach out to their neighbors and their friends' children to watch out for their child.
Then, I had to look at their angered and worried faces and tell them I am sorry. I am sorry that evil does exist in our world and that no matter how much we educate, advocate and love, sometimes it is not enough, but, we still have to hope. I told them that we can NOT let the darkness of evil cloak the light of hope for their children’s bright future. Last night, hope was in that room.
I reminded them that a few short decades ago children like ours had no hope. They were institutionalized, marginalized and often times forgotten. Parents were specifically told not to hope. However, hope must start somewhere. And for autistic and disabled individuals, that hope probably started in a room similar to where I sat last night, filled with parents who knew better than the experts what their child was capable of and so they weren’t afraid to hope.
Parents who hoped that their child could learn, hoped that their child could progress outside an institution, hoped that their child would be seen for who they were and not the label they had been given and hoped that their child would no longer be a target of senseless hate crimes just because they were "different".
As I finished up my talk, I realized I did not swear and I did not spew hatred at those defendants, because in my mind, they are not worth my breath. The children of those parents who were sitting with me in that room last night (most under the age of 5), that is who we must breathe for, that is who we must advocate for, that is who we must hope for.
As I looked around the room, I saw tears, I saw anger, but, mostly I saw hope. Hope for a future that is filled with more kindness than hatred, more good than evil, more heroes than monsters and more acceptance than judgement.
As I took my seat, wiping away my own tears, I had hope. Hope for that young man to trust again, hope for his family to find peace again and hope for the young children playing down the hall to grow up in a world more accepting and more aware than the one they live in today.