I took my daughters to hear a Holocaust survivor recently, and the most powerful statement the woman made was not in her remarkable story of survival but in the closing quote directed toward the kids: "The Holocaust did not begin with the gas chamber, it began with people not speaking up." To hear a 76-year-old women make a connection between schoolyard bullying and the extermination of millions of people really struck a nerve.
Two years ago a battle was happening in Arlington Heights. Boeger Place, an apartment building for residents with mental illness, was proposed about a mile away from my house. The reaction from some in my neighborhood was startling. Protest forms and email blasts were circulated with statements that if the complex was allowed, there was a chance that the residents would harm our children.
I was appalled as a parent of three healthy kids that there was such animosity toward people with mental illness. I try to teach my kids the importance of accepting people who are different, and I am ashamed in myself that I did not speak up and set an example. Ultimately the suburb succumbed to pressure by denying a change to the zoning rules to allow the apartment to be build.
A similar battle is brewing in Wheeling. Philhaven, an apartment building for people with mental and physical disabilities, is running into resistance.
I am sure that residents in my neighborhood and in Wheeling know someone with a disability, and I find it startling that we try to teach our children good values and compassion as long as it is not in our backyard. There are many who only talk tolerance. I hope the leaders in Wheeling do not let bullying stand in the way of rights of those with disabilities.