The Colleen Kennedy Experiment
Ms. Kennedy accuses me of making fun of a little girl because of her disability. She is wrong about this as, I think, any fair reading of my column will make clear.
In an email to my editor, Ms. Kennedy writes:
A lot of people claim Mr. Spencer's work to be satirical in nature, a jab to help boost awareness about our cause, but let me ask you this. Would Tina Fey, one of the best satirists of our generation, ever use a little girl's disabilities to get her point across? No, she wouldn't. What would Brad Schoener, a hero and mentor to both of us, say to such cheap ploys for attention? I know for a fact that he'd be pretty darn upset. I'm really at a loss for words for the level of classlessness that Mr. Spencer committed to tonight.There was no satire meant in today's column and only a fool would think so. My criticisms of SUDA are sincere and not meant to "boost awareness" of their "cause."
As for just who is using "cheap ploys" for attention, what could be more clear? It is SUDA that is using Katie for this purpose. It was Ms. Kennedy who challenged me to watch the video featuring Katie as the symbol for heartless cuts being made in the Upper Darby School District.
Katie is obviously a neat kid with a winning personality but she is just as obviously being used by Ms. Kennedy and her zealous band to promote their cause. Sanctimoniously claiming that their demands are "for the kids" is standard operating procedure in the education funding wars.
In this case, given the budget constraints in Upper Darby, administrators came up with rather a modest plan that has been characterized by its critics as "dangerous" and putting kids "at risk." The charge is ludicrous and deserves to be pointed out as such. SUDA activists seek a public opinion advantage over these heartless administrators by tugging at the heartstrings of district residents (and our readers) with an assortment of videos meant to rally public opinion to their point of view.
Ms. Kennedy is wrong about something else. Such tactics have, in fact, been satirized by Ms. Fey and other SNL cast members for decades. In so doing the satirists are NOT making fun of the kids, they are making fun of the grown-ups who attempt to exploit children for their own ideological or political purposes.
But then Ms. Kennedy wouldn't know satire from Sartre.
You will find her ridiculous e-mail below in it's entirety (except of the phone number she left for Phil to call her back). Read it (and my column) and make up your own minds about who is pathetically (and bathetically) exploiting whom.
I got a Google Alert for a new article about our movement about an hour ago. I read the article, and then I sat, completely enraged, for about 40 minutes...not because of the nasty things that were said about me, but because of your colleague's use of a child with disabilities as a ploy for his childish games to gain readership.
I'm writing to you because you are a reasonable gentleman, and I know that not only through your coverage of our movement, but through years of reading your pieces and through what I hear from older community members. What Mr. Spencer did by writing the article was a proverbial kick in the stomach to a girl with only one leg. Katie is absolutely one of the most inspirational and strong kids I have ever met. I've spent years around some amazing kids, from my work as a co-founder of the Brad Schoener Music Marathon, to many other opportunities I've had over my years in Upper Darby Township. Katie's strength and humility brings tears to my eyes, and she talked openly with my colleagues on camera about the ways that other kids tease and bully her for having one leg. She takes it all in stride every day, because of what her teacher, Mr. Dunne, has shown her. He not only has helped her to learn how to walk up steps, but to take pride in herself and become a leading athlete in her elementary school. I think you understand what these programs mean to these kids, and I'm trying to do the very best that I can (as an inexperienced young adult) to be an advocate. I shouldn't be ridiculed for that, but more important, Katie's innocence should not be taken away by an adult, all for the sake of entertainment to some readers.
Among all my other duties with Save Upper Darby Arts, I have to call Katie's parents now, first thing tomorrow morning, to notify them that their child was made fun of by a news reporter. We can go back and forth, but her disability was trivialized, and that is something that deeply upsets me, and will absolutely upset the parents and readers tomorrow, when they read it.
I demand not only a retraction from Mr. Spencer for his comments, but an apology on the phone from him to Katie's parents, and a genuine promise from him to at the very least, treat the children of this community with dignity and respect. I could care less about Mr. Spencer's insults of me, because they're ridiculous and completely unfounded at best, but he will not use the children of this township as sources for attack. If these three things do not occur, our organization is going have to sit down and think seriously about whether or not this paper's editorial standards are worthy enough for the serious nature of our cause. (And that hurts me to say, because everyone else on your staff has absolutely treated us and their work with absolute dignity, but a line has been crossed, and something needs to be done.)
A lot of people claim Mr. Spencer's work to be satirical in nature, a jab to help boost awareness about our cause, but let me ask you this. Would Tina Fey, one of the best satirists of our generation, ever use a little girl's disabilities to get her point across? No, she wouldn't. What would Brad Schoener, a hero and mentor to both of us, say to such cheap ploys for attention? I know for a fact that he'd be pretty darn upset. I'm really at a loss for words for the level of classlessness that Mr. Spencer committed to tonight.
Please feel free to drop me a call tomorrow, so we can discuss matters. As you can imagine, I am very distraught over this recent development, and I want things to be rectified as soon as possible, so we can get back to the job at hand: telling the news. I think above all else, we need to be concerned about the safety and emotional welfare of the kids at the heart of it all, because what really matters more than that?...
Colleen KennedyFounder of Save Upper Darby Arts