Identity, Identity

For anyone who was in BBYO, the title of this post will immediately remind them of a popular cheer from our youth group days of (not that) old. For those of you who haven't heard of BBYO or were not a member, I'll fill you in on the cheer. It goes like this: Identity, identity

Who am I?  A BBG

I am one, though only one

There's so much I can do!

Though a bit corny, like all cheers are, this cheer immediately struck  me as a good background for my post about BBYO, or B'nai Brith Youth Organization, a Jewish youth group that saw me through the 4 years of high school. BBYO, for me, was all about examining my identity and, ultimately, finding my voice. While this applied to many aspects of my personality, it was no better exemplified by how I felt about my role as a sib. You see, before BBYO, before the cheers and the chapters, my voice when it came to being a sib was extremely shaky. Talking about my family was complicated - when I was a 5th grader, most people didn't know what autism was so it seemed useless or just too tiring to try to explain what it meant for my brother to have Asperger's. So, a lot of the times, I just avoided talking about it, telling myself that it was only our business and nobody elses.

That worked right about until I joined BBYO. The reason why it suddenly wasn't enough to just say "yeah I have a brother, he's older than me" and leave it at that is that BBYO is all about developing deep, long-lasting connections with your peers and one of the best ways to build connection (especially for me) is to be vulnerable with people and share my story. So, one night, my chapter was having a "sisterhood" project modeled after the website Postsecret. If you've never been, definitely check it out, but essentially it's a project where people mail in postcards to an address with their biggest secret displayed on the card. This act of anonymous disclosure often allows people to make peace with their secret or at least feel less trapped by it. When we started looking at some of the postcards displayed online, one of my friends started talking about a secret that really resonated with her since she was a sibling of someone with special needs. That night, she opened up in a way that I had never done before. Since this friend also happened to be my neighbor, when she drove me home later that night, something inside me decided to tell her the truth, the real story of my brother and my family. It's a night I'll never forget simply because it was the first time where I really let it all hang out. I told the funny stories, the more stressful stories, and just all of the emotions that I had locked inside me for so long. Time and time again, she would burst out with "oh my gosh that's my life too!" or "yes oh my gosh that's so right!". Sitting in that maroon jeep, I finally felt like there was someone who could possibly get what I was going through. And so, that was my first sibs moment, thanks to BBYO.

Later that year, I was elected to the regional board of our BBYO region in the position of Vice President of Judaism and Community Service, or Shlicha. Each Shlicha gets to choose a cause or issue that they want the region to "stand up for". After much deliberation, we decided that our cause would be the inclusion of people with special needs into BBYO. While BBYO had never barred people with special needs from participating, they also never made an intentional effort to advertise that they were accepting. As a sib, this cause was clearly extremely relevant to my life and I threw myself head first into the initiative. My friend and I gave a speech about the sibling experience at our convention that year and I organized a panel of parents of kids with special needs in order to raise awareness about their experiences. At our biggest convention of the year, I helped bring in the stars of the documentary Wretches and Jabberers, a film about two adult men with autism who travel the world spreading their story. Again and again, BBYO gave me the chance to claim this extremely important part of my identity.

Finally, BBYO (via Impact:Boston) is how I found the two wonderful and strong women who make up the rest of the Sibs' Journey team. I am forever grateful to this organization for the support it has given me in navigating my sib story. Going back to the cheer, even though I am only one sib, I am so motivated to do as much as I can for this sibling community. As we travel the country and near our halfway point of the trip, it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that this will not be a one summer endeavor. Sibs everywhere are raising their voices and asking to be respected and included. It would be remiss of me not to heed their call.