A Best Buddies Story: Alan Raskin
Meet Alan Raskin who has been a global ambassador for Best Buddies for just over a year. Below, he talks about how his personal experience with bullying and the inclusive mindset of Best Buddies lead him to join this community, which has since incfluenced the career path he intends to pursue.
MTEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
ALAN RASKIN: I'm from Rochester, NY. I love travelling and learning new information. I NEVER pass up on an opportunity to try something new. I like to write creatively (short stories, poems, etc.) Most importantly, I love Best Buddies and all they do for the community.
MTEAM: When and how did you become an ambassador for Best Buddies?
AR: I did speeches before through my local office. I saw inequality as a huge problem, and I wanted to change my community. In February 2018, I did a TEDx Talk about ableism in our middle schools and high schools. I don't know how the process worked exactly, but about a month later, when the speech was visible on YouTube, my program manager informed me that I was offered to be a global ambassador. I was excited, scared, and confused all at once. But, like I said earlier, I don't pass up great opportunities, so I took it, and I'm glad I did.
MTEAM: Why is this role important to you?
AR: This role is important to me because it's how I can make my mark on the world. Everyone has a purpose to help the world, and people find careers in the ways that they can help the world best. For me, I see a lot of inequality, bullying, and exclusion, and I'm not afraid to stand up to it. I can speak publicly and spread inclusion—both things that I genuinely love doing. Global Ambassadors is a way I can do those things. It gives me the knowledge that what I say in my speeches makes an impact, and that motivates me to do more every day.
MTEAM: What do you love most about the Best Buddies? What value has this organization brought to your own life?
AR: Best Buddies has without a doubt changed my life. When I joined two years ago, I was very shy and didn't speak much. Through our chapter meetings, I slowly opened myself up to more friendships. With the help of Best Buddies, I turned from a barely speaking person to a confident advocate and activist. I can tell you, nothing could have really prepared me for 8th grade, when a group of students was bullying me. But, it was the inclusive people of Best Buddies that helped get me through that time and get the help I needed. I now look at my life from a completely different viewpoint. I am more inclusive, more confident, and infinitely happier thanks to Best Buddies.
MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from any of the past Best Buddies events you've attended?
AR: The main Best Buddies event that I've been to is the Leadership Conference in Indiana. I believe it was the second day there, I was working with other ambassadors and members of YLC, and we were talking about how we can use our strengths to help the world around us. I guess, at one point, I stopped feeling like I was with a community, and I started feeling like I was a part of the community. I really felt appreciated, like my ideas had a place to belong, and so did everyone else's ideas. Meeting and communicating with such impactful and supportive people was life-changing.
MTEAM: Are you partnered with a buddy of your own at the moment? If so, tell us about him/her and some of the things you do together.
AR: I am currently partnered in a buddy pair with a student in my school named Veronica. Although this was our first year together, and with the stresses of high school it can be hard to set aside time for us, we still managed to see each other as much as possible. We see each other often in the hallway, and we stop just to have a chat. We've gone bowling before, and it was really fun! It feels like what a high school friendship should be, and that's the goal of these buddy pairs.
MTEAM: Have you met anyone through Best Buddies who really inspires you? If so, who?
AR: While I have met countless inspiring people through Best Buddies, if I had to pick one in specific, it would be Alphonso Murphy. He and I met last year at LC. He always had a smile on his face and a joke in his back pocket. He's a really great person to be around, and on top of that, the work he does is incredible. He and I are currently working together on YLC, and he's been the best mentor and friend I could ask for there.
MTEAM: How would you explain Best Buddies to someone who has never heard of the organization before?
AR: It really depends on the situation there. What I do, personally, is find the way that Best Buddies can best impact the person I'm talking to, and I emphasize that point. For example, If I'm talking to a student, they would most likely want to hear details about the one-to-one friendship programs we have. I start off with our goal, to create inclusion between people with and without IDD (Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities). Then, I talk about what we do specifically, and I always make sure to have a few statistics ready so I can explain why exclusion is a serious problem and how Best Buddies is helping create inclusion. If necessary, I might throw in a personal story. I've learned to read whatever situation I'm in to decide what points to emphasize.
MTEAM: Has your involvement with Best Buddies in any way influenced your career plans for the future?
AR: Definitely. I didn't have much of an idea for a career before Best Buddies. I was thinking about either an architect or a chef (now I say that and laugh). Because of what I've learned through Best Buddies, I have taken an interest in pursuing law. We've gone a long way in terms of laws that help people with disabilities and other minorities, but they can be improved. Given that, I want to be a lawmaker, and I want to continue working with Best Buddies well into my later life.
MTEAM: What key changes would make the world a more inclusive place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
AR: I think the key changes to having a more inclusive world would be having a more inclusive mindset. This means things like ensuring that wheelchair accessible ramps, ASL interpreters, inclusive classes, and more aren't an "extra thing" that places can have, but rather a necessity that more places need to have. This is just where we start to solve the problem, though. From what I have experienced, our middle schools and high schools aren't doing their part in creating inclusivity. Very often, we see cliques of students bullying other students, especially ones with disabilities. Very often, people make excuses for this exclusionary behavior, saying, "teens will be teens" or, "you can't expect kids to abide by these rules." But, we can. To start creating an inclusive environment, we have to start at the root of the problem: the schools and teens. By holding students to a higher standard of kindness, inclusion, and empathy, we can prepare our next generations of leaders for the diverse environment they will be in beyond high school. And, we can further include people with disabilities in our world.