Make the Season of Giving a Daily Activity
I recently saw a story posted online about the impact small gestures can have on making people feel welcome.
Ohio parents Ashley and Joe Juby wanted to take their seven-year-old son, Brysen, to the barber so he would have a fresh haircut before his first school picture. The challenge was that Brysen, who was diagnosed at the age of two with autism, became traumatized when he entered a barber shop. To lessen the stress on their son, the Juby’s had been cutting his hair at home.
This time, upon entering the barber shop, Brysen got very emotional and began to cry. Without giving it much thought, the owner Marco Conti asked Brysen if he would prefer to have his haircut outside instead. When Brysen said yes, Marco brought a chair from the waiting area and placed it on the sidewalk outside, which was a more calming environment for Brysen. A co-worker snapped a photo of Brysen getting the haircut his parents had been hoping for and it soon went viral.
This good deed did not go unnoticed, as comment after comment expressed gratitude to Marco for making a simple accommodation that had a profound effect on Brysen and his family. As someone who has worked extensively with people living with disabilities, it warmed my heart.
I got that special feeling again a few weeks earlier right here in Rehoboth when I had the great fortune of meeting LGBTQ activist, of Free Mom Hugs, Sara Cunningham, in person. Sara had been invited by CAMP Rehoboth board member Tara Sheldon to speak, coinciding with National Bullying Prevention Month. I attended an event sponsored by CAMP Rehoboth and benefitting Cape Henlopen High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and Rehoboth PFLAG at Lefty’s Alley and Eats. Here, Sara shared her emotional story about the journey to accept her gay son.
As a devout Christian, Sara had great difficulty coming to terms with her son Parker’s sexual orientation when he came out to her in 2011. For more than four years, Sara struggled to love her son but was conflicted because her church’s interpretation of the Bible said being gay was a sin.
After much soul searching, Sara parted ways with her church and sought refuge in a Facebook group for moms of gay kids who felt alienated from their religion. She also heard heartbreaking stories of parents who lost their children to suicide because they could not cope with family rejection and often, being bullied for being different.
Sara finally received the support she had been seeking at church from total strangers who provided advice on how to build a relationship with her son. By 2015, Sara had fully embraced Parker and had become the type of mom she never thought possible.
Wanting to make up for lost time, Sara decided to do something about it. She joined Parker at Oklahoma’s Gay Pride Parade with a homemade pin attached to her dress that read “Free Mom Hugs.” The first person to accept was a woman who said she had not been hugged by her own mom in over four years.
What started as a spontaneous act of repentance turned into a movement. Soon, Sara also offered to stand in as someone’s mom at same-sex weddings when their own parents refused to attend. Now there are Free Mom Hugs chapters around the country where volunteers are working toward full affirmation and equality for all.
The first thing I did when I saw Sara at Lefty’s was to ask if I could hug her. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her efforts to bring comfort to others who wrestle with accepting their LGBTQ children. Yet again, here was an example of how a simple act of kindness has had a ripple effect, motivating others to follow Sara’s example and make others feel included in their family as well as the broader community.
The holidays are often a time when we reflect on what brings joy to our lives and give thanks to those we love. Often, it comes in the form of a gift that is either purchased or made from scratch like the yummy cookies my in-laws make every Christmas.
While annual days of remembrance or National Bullying Prevention Month serve as calls to action, my hope is that taking action to make the world a better place happens every day. By being intentional with our actions, we become role models for others around us. ▼
Wesley Combs, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a diversity and inclusion expert and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding principal of Combs Advisory Services where he works with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality, and opportunity in the workplace and the community.