What My Platform Has Taught Me About Bullying: Embracing Those Who Are Different

Happy October! A.K.A. Bullying Prevention Month!  My sister titleholder, Charlie Muraski, is Miss Idaho International (which is just a different pageant system) and her platform is Bullying Prevention! Today she is asking everyone to post a picture of themselves in a blue t-shirt to spread awareness. So, I want to #showyoumyshirt ;D, but I also wanted to talk about my platform, and what I’ve learned about bullying because of it!

For those of you who don’t know, my official Miss America platform is Possibilities for Disabilities. It is a program my little sister and I run which puts on sports camps for people with disabilities in order to give them opportunities to participate in activities that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

We started it, basically to bring more fun into their lives, but we found out it did so much more!

First of all, we realized that we had taken for granted the “fun” extra-curricular activities we had been participating in our whole lives. The piano lessons, basketball practices, choir rehearsals, etc., have taught us what we love, helped us form our identity, and most importantly shown us the value of working hard to achieve our goals.

But still, we found that the program we had started was doing even more in lives of each athlete, and every volunteer.

We run the program by getting our peers to volunteer as student coaches during camp. Possibilities creates a fun and inclusive environment, which helps the athletes break down the social barriers that their disabilities present them with.

In other words, when the athletes are playing fun games, kicking soccer balls, and goofing around with their peers all day, it gives them the chance to break the ice. Before we put together the first Possibilities event, it was easy for students to be reduced to label, such as “the kid in the Special Ed class”, “the girl with autism”, “different”, etc. However, as soon as we created an environment that allowed everyone to get to know each other, the athletes were able to show their peers who they really are—and they are so, so, so much more than their disability. We found out what they enjoy, what their quirks are, what they are passionate about, and what they dream of doing with their lives.

And, without intending to, we discovered what we thought the cause of a lot of bullying is, as well as how to prevent it.

We have a fear of that which is different than us: whether it is different religions, hobbies, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, ages, or in this case, cognitive or physical abilities.

Differences can be scary, and make us uncomfortable. They have been the root of many wars, arguments, and instances of bullying; however, diversity is also the source of innovation, creativity and synergy. It just depends on our attitude, and whether or not we choose to embrace those who are different.

For those of you who know my little sister (Hailey), you know we are very different. She’s basically crazy. Crazy awesome. But, again, we are opposites. However, that is exactly what makes us a great team. Her strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa. I am good at organizing, scheduling, casting a vision, leading a team, making and completing to do lists, etc. She is like the energizer bunny, is never in a bad mood, and is great at getting people excited. Our differences complement each other perfectly, and we couldn’t pull off our projects nearly as well without each other. That is something we should strive to do when interacting with anyone we meet: look for, acknowledge and appreciate the differences that exist between you and the people around you.

Don’t just tolerate those who are different, but love and embrace them as well. Our volunteers and athletes not only build valuable friendships with each other, but also take home an important lesson that extends well beyond working with students with disabilities: differences should not be feared—they should be celebrated. If everyone were exactly the same, this world would be so boring! Diversity is amazing, and if we learn to embrace it, rather than shy away from it, the world will be a better place.

For Bullying Prevention Month, I challenge you to befriend someone whose differences currently make you uncomfortable. No matter how old you are, whether you are in high school, college, or work a full-time job, find someone in your life that is different from you, and learn how to look past those differences. People are awesome—especially when they’re unique.

Ready, go!