Jerry Lewis: Helping or Hindering

In Columns, Just My Bellybutton, Opinion by Nathasha Alvarez

Labor Day Weekend is a very symbolic holiday for many Americans. It’s not only the last hoorah before many kids returning to school but also for a tradition that is quickly loosing its appeal to the community of people with physical disabilities. This weekend celebrities from long ago will dance, sing, and beg everyone to donate to the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon which will benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association in its attempt to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy.

There are many people with physical disabilities who are actually rallying around to do an Anti-telethon event because they are not in agreement with the way that Jerry Lewis depicts the people he is supposedly trying to help.

I am trying to understand both sides of the story for my cousin, Frankie’s sake, who lived with Muscular Dystrophy until about four years ago when he passed away at a very young age.

For several years, I have wondered why is this telethon still going on? With all of the money they have raised, isn’t there a cure? Do the people with Muscular Dystrophy get the help they need

? Why are there usually unknowns or famous people from the past on there?

Some of these questions sound silly but they stay with me year after year. I volunteered for one of the telethons several years ago, thinking I was doing the right thing. But then I started to hear that Jerry Lewis made many derogatory statements in the name of raising money and that he pretty much made disabled people appear pathetic creatures who need the people’s charity.

I was definitely not thrilled with that. But after many years of watching the show, it seemed as if it was a tradition to not only watch it but to donate something to the cause.

Now, I am going to have to take things into a different direction. 30 years ago or so, the disabled population practically had to beg to get sympathy, compassion, and financial assistance for its basic needs. But, times have changed.

The population of people with disabilities is no longer interested in a hand out. We don’t want society’s pity and many of us don’t see our wheelchair as imprisonment but rather our chariot of love.

Why hasn’t Jerry Lewis changed with the times? Why not illustrate the many accomplishments of MDA and its members? Why not describe their situation as one that is happy and fulfilling because of the assistance of today’s technology and the donations from past telethons?

Maybe I am missing the boat. Maybe Jerry needs to make the disabled people look pitiful in order to raise the funds that have medically helped people with MD live better lives. Let’s face it, it’s not as if society is opening its doors to the disabled community and rolling out the red carpet for us.

So I have to start thinking, does Jerry Lewis simply perpetrate the stigma that calls for the pity stares that many of us have complained about in conversations?

Maybe if the government focused more of its funds into finding cures for diseases that end lives prematurely and its agencies actually helped those who needed the help then Jerry Lewis wouldn’t have to beg people for money? Maybe?

Why do people with Muscular Dystrophy go on the telethon if it is such a bad and degrading place?

I have Osteogenesis Imperfecta and I don’t have a short life span but my cousin did. He had it because of MD. Perhaps the people who should be voicing their disgust are the same people Jerry Lewis claims to be helping.

I guess I am going to have to watch this year’s telethon so I can find out how Jerry portrays the recipients of his work. I want to see if they have made medical strides and if it is because of our donations.

I don’t see people in other organizations for the disabled flipping out when there are fundraisers for their disability. I know that my disability is also known as the brittle bone disease but I don’t see our people protesting when the media makes us out to be some pathetic person who can barely hold a pencil without breaking numerous bones. Then, we have organizations that cry out for our mercy by asking us to donate change of any kind. Christopher Reeves raised money and awareness for people with spinal cord injuries. I don’t remember anyone protesting then either.

Shouldn’t all of us with a physical disability not accepted these charitable contributions that are raised on behalf of our disabilities and ask these kind people to become more involved in changing laws that will help us live happy and productive lives?

So maybe, it’s Jerry Lewis’ message delivery. Maybe he needs to resign and allow someone else who will spotlight people with muscular dystrophy as people who need not only are dollars but also our love and acceptance.

Maybe I am wrong because I can’t get over the fact that there are forms of MD that will never allow people like my cousin to be fathers, grandfathers or even friends past the age of 30. I can’t imagine life with a death sentence. I can’t imagine life with a body that little by little will never obey our commands to move no matter how much we try.

I would love to hear from people with Muscular Dystrophy to find out whether they have any qualms with the MDA telethon or do they support it?

While I might not give money every year, I do think of my cousin every year and I wonder, with all of that money raised, why did he die so young? Couldn’t Jerry Lewis have bought him 10 more years on earth?

What are your thoughts? Email us at .

I love you, Frankie!