The Real-Life Story of Inclusion Man: Josh Ricciardi
I remember the day so vividly. Josh’s Mom had an ultrasound and I babysat him as she ran into Boston for an appointment; nothing out of the ordinary. But, when she came home, I knew something was wrong. I could see it on her tear strewn face. After hearing about the appointment, it was clear that there was a good chance ‘the baby’ (now known as Reese) had Down Syndrome. As a sister and future aunt, it felt confusing and unexpected.
My eldest sister (Amy) had severe intellectual disabilities and our family spent much time in the world of “special needs.” Having Amy as a sister was fundamental in my life, and she is a huge part of why I am a clinical health psychologist and child advocate. But, that was my life and my experience, and now, completely coincidentally, my young niece and nephews (Josh being one of them) might have a similar path.
My Mom used to always say people look at Amy and feel scared, curious, and even pity but what they didn’t realize is “what a blessing she is to our family”, which was so true although at times unclear. Yes, having a family member with severe disabilities was not easy, and my Mom devoted her entire life to Amy’s care, but as a sister, the positive impact she had on me was unquantifiable. Our relationship was the most influential one of my life.
Reese was born in June of 2010 and blessed the family with her presence as she grew from a beautiful, perfect little baby to a vibrant little girl who is now in first grade. In her short few years, she is already making an impact, especially on her big brother - Josh. Josh, now a 6th grader at Pierce, is a big fan of his little sister whose love turned him into a local advocate, unbeknownst to him. Josh told me, “Reese is a smaller than most 7-year-old girls, but she is funny and is always nice. All she wants is to be friends with everyone she meets. She makes me smile and laugh.”
This past spring, Josh won a contest for writing a story called ‘Inclusion Man.’ In this story, a young boy named Mickey (who has Down Syndrome) was bullied throughout his life but grew into a savvy engineer who built a magical suit that stops kids from being bullied. Mickey evolved from a victim of bullying to a super hero named Inclusion Man (IM). IM detects kids in trouble and flies to the scene to stop the victimization through talking with the kids.
Josh, I feel you. Imagine if we could actually build this suit and empower kids to speak up and say something? To end the cycle of bullying? To protect our most vulnerable children? To just talk with the bullies directly and share how their behavior makes others feel? The thing is – you have done this. Through your empathy, kindness, and thoughtfulness, you have spearheaded a movement of inclusion by sharing your own story. You spoke up, when it would be easier to say nothing. You are Inclusion Man. And you are inspiring our town to step up too and focus on the importance of inclusion. You are an everyday hero, and an inspiration to not only me, but our town.
Because your story is so important, many adults are listening and coming together to promote it. Through the generosity of Bill Resnick and Proforma, Inclusion Man t-shirts were made and will be given to children who exemplify empathy, kindness, and inclusion. These shirts are also available for purchase and 100% of the proceeds go to Best Buddies, an organization that is near and dear to your heart. If you see kids walking around with IM t-shirts, know they care, and have the same hope for kindness and inclusion as you. We will be wearing them with pride.
To all the members of the town, let’s support this beautiful idea. Let’s follow Josh and all be Inclusion Man in our own way. Let’s speak up for the most vulnerable kids in our community. Look for the t-shirts at local events or email Bill Resnick for more information on getting t-shirts as prizes for inclusion in your program firstname.lastname@example.org
And thanks Josh, you are quite a kid, and the best brother a girl could ask for. I can’t wait to see where you go. This is just the beginning. Xoxo – Aunt Bobbi
This first ran in The Milton Times, May 2018