It all started with a message from a concerned mother. Lynn Wendling posted a message to the Gillette Facebook wall. Her daughter Brittni, a freshman at Iowa State University, has been a Gillette patient for many years. Brittni has Larsen Syndrome – a condition that affects the development of bones. Lynn wanted us to know that Brittni had experienced a couple incidents of bullying on campus because of her disability in recent weeks. As a result, she posted an introspective account of her experiences on social media as a means to raise awareness about those with complex medical conditions, disabilities and the consequences of judging others.
She details her story in-depth on her Facebook page before concluding:
The moral of the story is: please please please just be nice to people. Always. You do not know their story or situation, and positivity can go a long way. I will not let ignorance win, and I do not wish to spread negativity and spite toward these types of people. Instead, I am taking this experience and turning it into an opportunity to increase awareness for everyone at Iowa State, colleges everywhere, and just to people from around the world. Feel free to share! Negativity did not and will not break me, and I am going to continue proving my point that I can do absolutely everything while keeping a smile on my face.
Brittni’s wise words inspired us to take action. Members of the Gillette communications team decided to share her message and encourage others to support her as well. We crafted the following statement and shared Brittni’s Facebook post on our social media channels:
We’re standing strong next to Gillette patient Brittni and her open letter to the world about recent college experiences. “Embarrassment, shame, and utter sadness swept through me, and I watched the video over and over, constantly worrying how many thousands of people saw it.” Read Brittni's letter, like this post or leave her a note, and share it. Together, we’re going to make a difference – not only for Brittni – but for everyone who has ever been made to feel less than they are.
Soon more than 700 people had shared Brittni’s post, about 200 liked it and she received nearly 30 supportive comments on her Facebook page. Even the Gillette Facebook post received more than 400 likes and about 50 comments supporting Brittni. People from around the world and organizations such as the United Cerebral Palsy of Minnesota, Learning Disabilities Association of Iowa and Triad (the company that created the scooter she uses to get around campus) hopped on the bandwagon.
After we chatted with Brittni and Lynn – and received their consent – we decided to take her message to traditional media as well. The communications team sent a statement to regional press. Several outlets inquired about Brittni and others posted our response about the situation. However, the St. Paul Pioneer Press proceeded with the most comprehensive recap about Brittni. Reporter Molly Guthrey wrote a Sunday column detailing Brittni’s situation called “‘Gillette kid’ takes on Iowa State campus bullies with open letter.”
An excerpt from the article:
“To be honest, that letter was more for me than them,” she says of her critics. “I don’t want to confront them or get anybody into trouble. If I did get a chance to talk to them, it would just be to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ Because it’s made me bring this issue to the surface. It’s an important issue. I’ve always wanted to be a disability advocate. I guess I am doing that now.”
Now, Brittni says, her confidence is back and more than anything, she’s stunned by the staggering amount of support she’s received in-person, online, on social media and in the press. She’s happy the negative experience has turned into a positive teaching moment. She recapped her emotions after the whirlwind in a familiar place – her Facebook wall:
Hey friends! The incredible support I have received from friends, family, and complete strangers all around the world about my open letter has meant more to me than I can ever describe! I'm so glad that my message has been heard and has had such an impact on people. Thank you to Molly Guthrey (from the Pioneer Press) for reaching out to me and writing this article, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare for standing by me and sharing my story, and the 700+ people who have reached out to me in some way. I'm beyond thankful to have such a huge support system to stand behind me and raise my spirits. You are all truly amazing, and I love you all.
It may be cliché, but if there was ever a scenario when the old saying about making lemons into lemonade rang true, this would be it.