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Normalize the nerd & cancel "Nerd Day"

Over the last 2 weeks Homecoming festivities at Colleges, Universities and High Schools have been in full swing (#GRAMFAM) and Monday of this week, Red Ribbon Week across the nation has kicked off its festivities. If you don’t know, Red Ribbon Week is a nationally recognized week that raises awareness of and teaches prevention of alcohol, tobacco, drugs & violence. Red Ribbon Week is celebrated annually October 23-31st.

My social media timeline has been flooded with proud parents posting beautiful pictures of their children dressed up in their school’s respective themed day attire. I’ve seen kids dressed as their favorite book characters, superheroes, princesses, what they want to be when they grow up, senior citizens and so much more. A couple of days ago while scrolling through my social media feed, it appeared that the theme at most schools was “Nerd Day.” While all of the children that beautifully graced my timeline had smiling faces, were dressed in their best and I’m convinced well thought out “nerd” costume and were innocently participating in their school’s themed day, for some reason I instantly became saddened and sympathetic for those persons who are picked on and even bullied everyday for being in some peoples eyes, a nerd.

I’m sure I’m not the only one but when I hear the word nerd my mind automatically goes to the character of Steve Urkel. Steven Q. Urkel to be exact. Steve was one of the main characters on the 1990’s hit TV sitcom, Family Matters. Steve was routinely seen wearing big reddish brown glasses adorned with a black glasses strap, high watered pants, thick white socks and those infamous suspenders. Despite other noticeable and memorable things about Steve Urkel, we all can recall that Steve was very smart…a genius some might say. He was very clumbsy and somewhat socially awkward too. By today’s medical standards, Steve may have been labeled with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (Aspergers Syndrome). Everyone from the Winslow family to Steves’ classmates referred to him as a nerd. Steve was so thick skinned and resilient that most times, this reference didn’t even bother him…he embraced it.

Scrolling through my timeline made me think about those students who embody some of the same characteristics of Steve Urkel. They may not wear big framed glasses, high watered pants, or even suspenders but they have been branded with the name of nerd; all because they exceptionally excel in their school work, they wear glasses or in some instances some are called a nerd simply because they don’t fold under the heavy weight of peer pressure.

To my knowledge, I’ve never been called a nerd so I can’t attest to how a school themed day such as Nerd Day could affect someone who has actually been called a nerd, however, I do know several brilliant people who have been given the title of nerd and know from their testimony how a day like Nerd Day makes them feel.

Some might say, that I’ve taken this way too far, I’ve thought about it too much and the school and kids are just having innocent fun. I’d say it’s all silly and fun in games until someone gets hurt or takes their life behind something like Nerd Day. If I really let my imagination roam, I’ll say that I believe that there were times that Steve Urkel felt the weight of the negative words coming from the people around him. I’d imagine that maybe he didn’t want to be Steve Urkel anymore and wanted to be someone else, someone more socially acceptable. Well, I don’t have to imagine these things because during the course of the sitcom they actually happened. Instead of Steve Urkel taking his life by way of suicide behind the negative and offensive words spoken to and over him he decided to become Stefan Urquelle. To him, and everyone around him, a more socially acceptable handsome, well-dressed, charming and intelligent human being.

Becoming Stefan didn’t come without its challenges either.

Take a moment to really think what a themed day like Nerd Day might do the mental psyche of someone who is referred to as a nerd everyday. Seeing people go to school innocently (to the person wearing it) dressed in their best Nerd Day costume may be the last straw for someone dealing with the stigma of being called a nerd day in and day out. As parents, we WILL NOT get everything right even with out best efforts. Let’s do our best to raise well rounded human beings that can see the risks and benefits, pros & cons in all of their actions even in something as small as participating in school themed days. As a parent, I’m challenging myself to do this daily.

I kept scrolling on my timeline to hopefully see that one child dressed in his/her normal school attire or just plain clothes with hashtags that read #normalizebeinganerd or #differentdoesntmeannerd or #justsmartnotanerd. Sadly, I didn’t come across any of those. There’s still hope though.


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