“All that matters in the race is the amount of training each person has been putting into the event & how fast they go on that day,” says US Paralympics gold medalist Josh George.
George, along with other US Paralympians, is teaming up with the US State Department to take part in the 2012 Hours Against Hate campaign. The Olympic-inspired campaign’s goal is to use sport as a catalyst to change perceptions.
“The first person to cross the finish line is the winner. It doesn’t matter whether they believe something differently than I do, whether they have different sexual preferences than me, whether their skin color’s different. None of that matters.”
Despite his Paralympian physical abilities, George still gets treated differently because he uses a wheelchair.
“I have had to deal with a lot of ignorance. I have been judged, and had my abilities & capabilities judge based purely on the fact that I am in a wheel chair,” he says. “This type of ignorance & lack of knowledge is often a breeding ground for hate. It is much easier to dislike something you don’t understand then to take the time to learn about it.”
That’s the kind of thinking that the 2012 Hours Against Hate is seeking to change.
“For the one-billion disabled people around the world, hatred is an all too common experience,” says US State Department Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Heumann. “It can take many forms including verbal or physical abuse, being denied a job or education because of one’s disability, being shut out of public spaces because of physical or communications barriers, & being shunned or ignored by people who are simply afraid of people who do not look, sound, move, think or act like them.“
The program asks folks to take an hour out of their week to learn something new about other cultures, abilities, or lifestyles.
“Anytime that you can spend reaching out to people who do not look like you, live like you, love like you, or pray like you will help to build a society where we are all valued and respected for who we are,” says Heumann.
Heumann says the program’s goals are especially achievable during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“These games demonstrate how sport is a powerful tool to connect people & community and foster understanding.”