I felt pretty skeptical about Night to Shine.
If you aren’t familiar with this event, it’s an annual gathering for teenagers (and adults) with disabilities, hosted by churches, and sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. Adolescents gather for some combination of having their hair and makeup done, riding in a limousine, walking a red carpet, and attending a prom.
I registered Penny. And then I unregistered her. We didn’t go because she’s in the midst of cheerleading season and her nights are full. And we didn’t go because we were celebrating Marilee’s birthday. And we didn’t go because Night to Shine was over an hour away and it all just felt like too much.
Skeptical of Night to Shine
But we also didn’t go because I was skeptical. I worried that Penny would be objectified, that the whole experience would be an example of “inspiration porn” (which I wrote about a few weeks back). I worried that in celebrating people with disabilities for one night, the volunteers and host churches would think they had done their duty for the year and would forget them.
And I worried that Penny and the other attendees would be treated as a project in need of someone ministering to them, rather than as humans with the capacity to have a ministry of their own.
“Shoulders Down” Spaces
And then I heard from multiple friends and saw images and stories online of just how wonderful the night was. I remembered Heather Avis’ words that those of us in the world of disability need spaces that are “shoulders down,” spaces where we aren’t on the alert for being ignored or mistreated. In a world that so often refuses to welcome and honor the full humanity of people with disabilities, what could be better than a night devoted to centering and celebrating the people who are so often overlooked and maligned?
I wish we lived in a world in which an event like Night to Shine was not needed. I want to live in a world where the slow, daily work of cultivating relationships with all people is expected, especially within churches. I’m also grateful we live in a world where some people are making a tremendous effort to support, value, care for, and love people like our daughter.
(Next year, cheerleading may get in the way of Night to Shine again. After that, we’re in.)
More with Amy Julia:
- False Message: Disability is a problem to be fixed.
- False Message: Disability is a tragedy to be alleviated.
- False Message: Disability is a joke to be laughed at.
- False Message: Disability is an inspiration.
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