I am JJ: '... then they won't know me for all I am.'
Blog Post #170 —The heart of my blog is to empower and inspire children with allergies to embrace who they are and who they can be, not just who they're not.
Children with food allergies don't have to be timid little souls sentenced to a lifetime of sitting at an allergy-free table, living lives where they are quarantined, scared to interact with all the "normal" kids.
Children with food allergies CAN live amazing lives of accomplishment. Children with food allergies CAN be active. Children with food allergies CAN be involved. Children with food allergies CAN be confident.
And children with food allergies CAN soar.
If we can teach them how to embrace their strengths, we will shatter food allergy bullying.
If we can teach them how to embrace their strengths, our children will become advocates for themselves and will be safe and included.
If we can teach them how to embrace their strengths, our children will live lives of accomplishment... and they will soar!
As I travel throughout spreading my message of advocacy, I am constantly impressed with the children I meet. I wish we could just give these young people microphones and let them talk directly to their extended families and their teachers and their caregivers and their friends and their friends' parents. If they did, we could move our awareness and educational campaigns much further along.
My feelings once again were reinforced this weekend, when I attended an amazing FARE ( @foodallergy ) Let's Connect conference in Cherry Hill, NJ.
Hosted by Lisa Rosenberg from Safe and Included (@safeandincluded), the event gave parents an opportunity to interact with an expert panel of food allergy experts and advocates. While the parents were in one room, their children were in an accompanying room participating in a series of food allergy awareness activities. I was helping to lead the activities, along with Jaime Gialloreto, Miss New Jersey, whose platform is food allergy awareness.
Jaime and I had an awesome time empowering and inspiring these young people. And the kids got it.
After Jaime read my children's book, Land of Not, to the roomful of children, we began a discussion about food allergies and the importance of letting others know who we are.
"Why is it important to let people know that you can't eat nuts or that you can't drink milk?" I asked as the hands immediately shot into the air.
"So people can know how to be safe when they're around me," one girl said.
I walked over to her.
"Right! It's important to speak up about your allergy," I said with emphasis. "But what do you think are some problems with *only* saying that you can't eat nuts?"
The young girl paused, just for a moment, before articulating something that is at the core of a message every person with a food allergy must hear. "If I only tell people about me not being able to eat peanuts then that's all people will know me by. They won't know me for all I *am*."
Will people see your children for all they are or will they simply see them as "That kid who can't eat peanuts?"
The challenge is teaching our children how to talk about their allergies in such that way that stresses the importance of being safe around them but in a way that doesn't define themselves only by their allergies.
Our children are more than their food allergies. They must know it. Their parents must know it. And those around them must know it too.
JJ Vulopas is a rising senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com and follow him @thelandofcan on Twitter and Instagram.