by Kara McClurken (aka Bennett’s mommy)
Bennett loved rocks. Shiny ones, dull ones, rough ones, smooth ones, sparkly ones, and ordinary ones that he found in the parking lot. Size, shape, color didn’t matter. He saw them all for the individual potential and wonder.
Bennett’s love of rocks is a great way to talk with kids about diversity and inclusion. And for the kids who knew Bennett, it is a way for them to talk about their loss, while connecting with their friend. So I went to Bennett’s school this month to spend some time with his former classmates. I visited during library time and we read a book given to Bennett by a fellow rock lover: “Everybody Needs a Rock” by Byrd Baylor. And then the kids got to choose their very own rocks—collected by friends of Bennett’s Village from riverbeds and rock piles and even from a petrified forest. And yes, even from the playground at his school where Bennett spent so many hours finding rocks and adding pounds to his backpack every day.
Their creations are magnificent. Beautiful and shiny and rough and colorful and sparkly. They make dogs and Spiderman. They make 3 eyed creatures and 1 eyed creations. They make chameleons and monsters and rainbows. They write Bennett’s name on their rock, color it his favorite shade of blue, and declare that they will keep it close to their bed each night.
Not all of the first graders were at his school last year. So we talk a little bit about Bennett. I have a message I hope that they understand. That Bennett felt the same way about people as he felt about rocks. That he loved them all, no matter what they looked like or what they could do. It didn’t matter if they could walk. Or speak English. Or color in the lines. He wanted to play with them all. To learn and explore and play together. I try to use the rocks to do what Bennett did just by being. To recognize the beauty and wonder of each of us in all of our shapes and sizes and colors and abilities.
We are going to build an all abilities playground in Charlottesville. Where people of all ages and abilities can play together side by side and discover the wonder of each other, in both the extraordinary and the ordinary. But we at Bennett’s Village want to do so much more. We want to help provide more opportunities for classes and communities to discuss how we make our world a place for everyone—where all are safe and free to play and grow. We want to design curriculum and activities for all ages and in all sorts of ways, from book clubs to hands on projects, from toddlers to octogenarians, where we can challenge ourselves to be more inclusive, where we can learn from each other. We have already begun exploring how to this by working with elementary and middle school students and some undergraduate and graduate classes. But there is so much more potential in this area. If you are interested in helping us move forward with this part of our mission, send an email to Bennettsvillage@gmail.com with a brief description of the topic and the age range.
One of my favorite parts of working with the first graders (besides their energy and hugs) was when a student beat me to the lesson—as we were describing Bennett to a first grader who hadn’t known him, a child raised her hand and said “Bennett loved everybody.” Rocks and people kid, that’s right. He loved us all, and through that love, taught us some of life’s most important lessons.