A Conversation with Bridget Brown
When did you graduate from Eisenhower Junior High School?
What grades did you attend in District 61?
Preschool to 8th grade
Please let us know any special memories of your time spent at Mark DeLay and Eisenhower Junior High?
I went to Mark DeLay School. I have many wonderful memories. I remember participating in the Young Authors event when I was in 2nd grade. I loved the Thanksgiving feast and being a pilgrim. Valentine’s Day was fun because we had a party and shared Valentines with everyone. The other parties were fun as well as all the field trips. In 5th grade we went to Outdoor Education in Wisconsin and that was the first time I was away from home. It was great fun. We had a whole year where we did African art and had a big celebration at the end called OPEN HUT. We wrote letters to kids in Africa and had an artist help us make art projects from many different countries in Africa. I was in a few small plays and involved in a science fair. I loved singing in the choir and performing at concerts.
At Eisenhower I was in student council and was involved with a peer guides program. We worked on the yearbooks and decorated for graduation events. I loved being in choir with Ms. Hanson and being in the concerts. We sang at our graduation ceremony. Mrs. Rodkin did a big Holocaust program when I was in 8th grade. We made historical plates, read Anne Frank, and listened to Holocaust survivors. It was amazing. I remember going to dances. I tried to participate in many extracurricular activities.
Who were some of the memorable teachers in District 61?
All my teachers were fantastic!
Mark DeLay – Ms. Finaldi, Mrs. Brown, Ms. Folkens, Ms. Leitner, Ms. Lewis, Ms. Besso, Ms. Roff, Mr. Maddox, Ms. Dulkowski, Ms. Dongarra, Mrs. Swenson.
Eisenhower – Ms. Hanson, Mrs. Rodkin, Ms. Haley, Mr. Fitzgerald, Mrs. Levstik, Ms. Neary, Ms. Fernandez, Mrs. Krupicka, Mr. Evenson, Mr. Bancroft, Mrs. Slifka.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in?
I was in choir, band, student council, and peer guides.
Are you proud of any personal accomplishments in school?
I am very proud that I was the first student with a disability to be included in general education classes. Everyone worked very hard to support me and I had peer guides who were kind and helpful friends. I am proud of myself but also the entire school district and all the educators and support people at my schools. Because of that experience I have given speeches all around the United States and in Australia talking about my inclusion experience in District 61.
If you could say anything to the current students in District 61, what would that be?
I would say ALWAYS DWELL IN THE POSSIBILITIES! Be hopeful because hope gives us the courage to take a chance on our future. Dream big!
Remember what Mother Teresa said: “…Do small things with great love.”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi
What are some of your accomplishments and activities since leaving District 61?
I am a national public speaker. I have my own organization called Butterflies for Change and I advocate for inclusive education and community living for people with disabilities. I teach educators and community members about inclusion and encourage them to open their hearts, minds, and doors to include ALL people.
I am an actress and I have been in a few movies: LOL with Miley Cyrus; Wiener Dog with Kieran Culkin, Greta Gerwig and Danny DeVito; and No Easy Target (a Star Wars Fan Film). I have also been on a few TV shows.
I went to Rome and got to meet Pope Francis a few years ago as an advocate for inclusion in the Catholic Church and places of worship.
I just started as a student in an inclusive college program at the University of Illinois Chicago. This is a new program and one of the first inclusive programs of its kind.
I help people with disabilities in state institutions move into community living homes. I am involved in the Illinois Going Home Coalition.
Some of my awards:
• Association of University Centers on Disabilities–Leadership in Advocacy Award
• SEASPAR – Leadership and Advocacy Award
• Ups for Downs – Commitment to Excellence Award
• ARC of Illinois – 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award
• Clay Aiken’s National Inclusion Project – Champion Award
• 2012 National Down Syndrome Society’s – Champion for Change
• Chosen as one of the 11 inspiring women you should know – Leah Pickett, WBEZ
• Recognized as one of the 100 most inspiring women in Chicago, TCW Magazine
What activities and jobs are you currently involved in?
• An actress with Gray Talent
• Working for PACE Suburban Bus company to teach people with disabilities how to take public transportation
• A college student at UIC
• In the fall, I will be working as an actress in the Simulation Lab at the UIC Nursing Center
• National speaker for my organization, Butterflies for Change
• Writing a book, “Learning to Fly with Full Wings“
• Traveling to Washington, D.C., in June to advocate for college opportunities for people with disabilities
• Teaching students with disabilities to advocate for themselves
• Second Vice President of the National Association for Down Syndrome
• Community Theatre participant
• Member of 3 book clubs
What are your plans for the future?
• Fully participate in the College program at UIC
• Continue acting career
• Finish my book
• Continue to speak and advocate for people with disabilities
• Continue to work with current jobs
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I have so many wonderful memories of my years in District 61. I met so many champions who helped me along the way. A champion is a person who fights for or defends another person. A champion is also a protector, an advocate, and a warrior. Because of all my District 61 champions, I have been able to live a full inclusive life filled with possibilities.
This quote from Meister Eckhart describes how I feel about all the champions: “If the only prayer I say in my life is THANK YOU, it will be enough.”