Purple Backpack


excerpt from speech given at StoryFest breakfast held Friday, October 12th, 2017

Maggie, started school this year with a bang. With literal kicking and screaming and banging on things. What was designed for modern parental convenience, the drive up, open your door, and a nice friendly teacher would remove child from car seat, became a monumental battle each morning. Mostly, the experience left my daughter feeling like she was being abducted by strangers. Every. Single. Morning.

Being the social innovator that I am, and employing my Starfire design thinking skills, we quickly realized that if we parked the car, and walked her to the door, she no longer caused such a scene. There was still the dread of going to school, but much less abuse of the teachers.

The dread however, came to stop altogether and things started to change for her when she came home excitedly about a month ago.

“mama! Someone at school has my same backpack!”

“That’s wonderful! Who? Did you ask their name?”


I gave a big smile. Maggie, having no idea, that I know who Beatrice is. That she is our neighbor in Madisonville, mere blocks away from our house, and that Beatrice’s dad, Shawn, is one of Starfire’s best connectors, and Beatrice’s mom, Missy, is one of Cincinnati’s best crafting artists with Happy Groundhog Studios.

Maggie and I spent the last few minutes before bedtime looking at pictures of Beatrice on her mom’s Facebook wall. Pictures of Beatrice at an FC Cincinnati event, at the pool with her cousins, at the Dali Museum with her brother… and a picture of her on World Down Syndrome Day. Her mom, Missy, wrote under that picture “I hope in the future that this doesn't need to be a special day. That all people are included and loved for who they are, and not forgotten or separated because they don't move as quick, because they look different, or because they don’t have the words to say what they want.”

I asked Shawn and Missy for permission before sharing Maggie and Beatrice’s story as we think about that budding friendship. Not because it’s extraordinary that two kids can become friends with someone who has the same purple backpack with stars. But because of the opposite side of the coin – what is lost when people with Down Syndrome, or autism, or cerebral palsy, or any disabilities, aren’t given the opportunity to feel that spark of friendship and welcome in our community. When they sharing ordinary places, when they aren’t known and given the opportunity to grow in relationship. What is lost when people with disabilities aren’t included, when separateness and isolation and anonymity are the dominant story arc of someone’s life.

But Starfire tells a different story. Our work is one person at a time by design, honoring everyone’s unique identity, but it has a rich multiplying effect in our community locally and nationally. The work of Starfire is impacting more places and more lives than at any other time in our near 25 year organizational history.

See videos featured at this year's Storyfest Breakfast event here:www.youtube.com/starfirecincy