Every once in a while a story comes along that’s so good it makes you want to sing “Hallelujah!” accompanied by a full marching band. I’ve got the band, feel free to start singing.
In a Facebook post that has gone viral, Carissa Brealey Bonacci of New Mexico shares a video of her two teenage sons playing in their high school marching band. it has been viewed over 1.7 million times.
What makes this video so special? It features Carissa’s severely intellectually disabled son, Isaac, having the time of his life jamming on a drum. Something Carissa never dreamed she would see.
The video, taken during the home opener halftime show at Oñate High School, is the epitome of what inclusion looks like in action. I dare you not to smile. Or cry. Or both.
The mother of five starts her post by saying:
“My middle son, Isaac, is severely intellectually disabled and rarely gets to participate in the same activities as his siblings. When Isaac started high school this year, my older son, Aidan, convinced me to let Isaac join the marching band. Isaac cannot play an instrument and needs constant supervision, so I was extremely skeptical. But marching band is Aidan’s family-away-from-home, and I was touched at how much he wanted to share that with his little brother.”
And while Isaac may be the “little brother” only 5 months separate the boys in age.
Isaac is a 15-year-old freshman in high school. His older brother Aidan (also 15) is a sophomore. Isaac was adopted from Columbia when he was 3 years old. Carissa tells Filter Free Parents that the brothers have always been close:
Literally from the moment they met. Aidan says his very first memory is peeking out of the room at the government office in Bogota where we met Isaac for the first time and seeing him walk down the sidewalk with all his social workers and lawyers.”
Aidan convinced his mother to let Isaac join the Royal Knight Regiment Band with him. She sent them off to 6 weeks of band camp and rehearsals, assuming that Isaac was helping to set up equipment or run water bottles. It turns out he wasn’t.
In their first marching performance of the season, Isaac PLAYED. She writes in her post:
“He PLAYED. He played percussion just like his big brother. He stood front and center in the percussion pit and totally jammed on a drum pad. The pad muted his playing, which was pretty off-beat and completely out of sync with the rest of the band, but he had the time of his life. I bawled.”
And now so am I.
This story has resonated with people around the world, and it is easy to see why. It is about more than mere inclusion. It’s about pure, unadulterated acceptance. It is a powerful testament to truly accepting someone for WHO HE IS and the resulting joy that brings.
And it’s not just Isaac who is happy. The band director has expressed his gratitude to Carissa for letting Isaac be a part of the band and his fellow bandmates love having him around.
Carissa ends her post with these words:
“I’m so used to Isaac being treated like a burden (with varying degrees of patience and tolerance), even by relatives. Seeing him be so thoroughly appreciated for who he is (and not judged for what he isn’t) is something I never expected outside our family. I just had to share. I couldn’t be prouder of both my boys.”
The response that Carissa has received from her post has been overwhelming. She tells Filter Free Parents:
I never expected it to get so many views and shares! Almost all of the comments and messages I’ve received have been supportive, and many people have shared their similar experiences with a family member that has special needs. It’s been humbling and very emotional for me. I’m still trying to process it!
As parents we want nothing more than to protect our children from heartache and pain.
Sure, we can try to convince ourselves that it is in these moments that our children grow stronger, but at the heart of it, none of us want to watch our children suffer. It can be difficult to let our kids loose in the world to find their own way.
Will people be kind? Will they be accepting? Will our children be met with love and compassion? And when our child has special needs? These fears and worries can be amplified.
As far as what advice Carissa would give to other parents of intellectually disabled children? She has the following message:
“I guess I would encourage other parents of intellectually disabled children to take a chance on new activities and organizations. I have a tendency to want to protect Isaac from possible rejection or failure, and I was very reluctant to let him participate in marching band. It took a lot of convincing! But it has turned out to be the greatest experience of his life so far. It’s made me realize that sometimes it’s not the community holding him back, it’s me. If it hadn’t worked out with band, he probably would’ve forgotten about it within days. But because it did work out, his life is so much fuller now. It was worth the risk ten times over!”
With great risk, comes great reward. And with true acceptance? Comes true happiness. Thank you Oñate High for showing the world what inclusion really means.