I’m not going to lie, the last four weeks have been pretty intense. From our (semi) relaxing Hawaii vacation with my parents and my first foundation gig to documenting stories of our OGs to local guerrilla elections warfare, I’ve traveled to four cities and there are moments I forget where I am. No joke. This month has been hectic to say the least.

I haven’t been writing much lately but now when I don’t write, something doesn’t feel right. Sometimes things feel scattered and I need to make time to catch up with myself, time to breathe, and time to come back to my purpose. Writing and sharing has been one way I’ve been able to do this.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how people show up for each other. We talk a bit about this in the movement. I wanted to share (and celebrate!) how we are showing up for Collin as a community. This story grounds me in how I show up for others.

A couple months ago, after taking Collin to a community event, he kept talking/venting about how he didn’t like people talking about him and clapping for him. This time it felt different because he kept talking about it for 3 nights in a row. Finally, Mychi asked him what he wanted us to do next time. In a dramatic fashion, he put out his hand like a stop sign and said, “Next time do this and tell them STOP!!!”

At that point, we looked at each other and our hearts sunk, just a little. We realized that he was asking us to stand up for him, and to show up for him. In social settings, we tend to minimize his needs and try to get him to adapt and conform to the situation. We tell him “people don’t mean it,” “people are not talking about you,” “people clap because they are happy.” This may be generally true but it doesn’t acknowledge what he is feeling.

As we were tearing up a little… we quickly affirmed how he was feeling and apologized for not telling people to “STOP!”. I was already blown away by such a direct and specific request! Then I asked him if it was okay for us to make a sign for him next time to bring to the event. (Thank you, Rebecca Cokley for planting the seeds for this idea!)

Fast forward a few weeks later, our movement elders (OGs), Pam and Ben, were celebrating their 70th birthdays. It was a BEAUTIFUL event with a couple hundred people. I spent a couple days prepping Collin for the event. We talked about who would be there, what we would do, and showed him pictures of the people and past events. He immediately said that he did NOT want people to wave or clap for him.

Then, I reminded him about the sign. We talked about what he wanted on the sign and went over it few times. Here is what we came up with.

“Collin is happy to be at the party. Today, he is a bit shy.

Please do NOT:

Clap for him

Wave to him

Say hello

And please do not ignore me.

Thank you.”

That morning before the event, I also decided to send an email and post about this to friends. The sign was the opening of a lot of different conversations. First, it was a little confusing how to not say hello and not ignore him. (Also, I had a little grammatical error which made it even more confusing!) But here are some reflections from our tiny steps of intention:

  • Building trust and “safety” — By affirming his needs, we were building trust and showing up for him. This gave him the safety he needed to enjoy the space. Safety, however, does not mean a “pure or perfect” space. He still had his moment of discomfort and difficulty but if anything happened, he knew that we’d have his back. He spent most of his time in with Mychi in a separate room with a few other movement kiddos. He had a BLAST and in general craves social interaction. After his nap that afternoon, he wanted to go to the next event. It was the “Stop the Killings” Tour and Concert with some of the same movement family. He had an amazing time there, as well!
  • Building our collective practice — Most people in our community know about Collin’s triggers but in large social events, people tend to forget. The sign though was a good reminder. I also tell newer people they should not even try to say hello unless they are going to spend 10-15 minutes to hang with him. We, including myself, can all get better at this, as a young age we expect little ones to preform smiles, blow kisses, and give high fives in social settings without really spending the time to build with them.
  • Gentle and firm parenting — Bruce Lee talked a lot about being on the cusp of “gentle and firm.” Showing up for our loved ones does not just mean coddling our little ones and letting them do whatever they want. It is learning and leading at the same time. For us, the purpose was to show affirmation of his requests. He also requested for me to not speak and I agreed. I’m not sure if it was the “right” decision but I wanted to show him my commitment. I later said that sometimes I will need to speak and that is something he needed to accept. He responded and asked, “Why?” Classic. I reminded myself that it is a process and a journey together. Showing up means you will be there along the way.
  • He had agency — In this process, we made sure he knew he had some choices. We of course had to take some parental leadership in defining the parameters. We prepared for various scenarios in the event. When it got too loud for him we asked him to tell us to go to another room instead of screaming at the people speaking or clapping. He screamed a couple times but also did not want to leave.
  • To be seen but not engaged — This was the most deep (and confusing) reflection.  He wanted to been seen but not have people in his face. I truly believes that he represents the future of how intuitive we need to be in the 21st century. It worked (for the most part). Folks didn’t approach him (and no one ignored him either). Some people got creative and just gave him eye contact and a head nod. I love our community! <3 But seriously, how many times have we gone to events and just want to be seen!? As an introvert, I totally get it.

I’m celebrating this because I see all of us transforming as we are showing up for Collin. How we show up is something folks talk about a lot in the movement; it is a practice developed over time, over struggle, and over joy. Showing up for each other is sometimes a matter of wining or losing campaigns; resolving or intensifying toxic situations. No matter what, at the core of this, we are becoming closer to our own purpose and connection with others. Can we become more intentional in these ways? I believe so. Because of Collin, I know I can learn and grow; I can show up more for him and others everyday.