If it’s pity we’ll get some money. I’m just giving you the facts. Pity … if you don’t want to be pitied for being a cripple in a wheelchair, don’t come out of the house. - Jerry Lewis
May 20, 2001
Interview on CBS News Sunday Morning
I want to make it clear that I am not an angry advocate who is pissed off at the world and nit picks at every little thing an "abled bodied" person says or does; but I picture the humanitarian award given to someone like Mother Teresa or Bono. Jerry Lewis has brought his integrity into question by making some pretty discusting remarks about not only the disabled community but blacks and the gay community as well. To me a true humanitarian would not hold public contempt for certain groups of people but intead encourage the embracement of diversity and promote harmony.
Jerry Lewis, the longtime spokesman and fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on Sunday evening for his tireless efforts on behalf of the group. During his 43 years as host of the group's Labor Day telethon, the organization has taken in almost two billion dollars.
Every year as a kid my family and I would gather around the television to watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon. I remember the knots of anger twisting in my stomach as Jerry would put his arm around a small child sitting in a wheelchair and talked about pity and mercy and giving. To me it was as shameful as a peddling preacher or greasy used car dealer trying to pawn his latest rust bucket on anyone gullible enough to drive off in it.
In the 70’s and early 80’s my family was fighting for my right to be in public school and for my civil rights to education and opportunities that should be given to everyone. It is hard to convince people that a “crippled” child can learn and grow into a fully functioning and contributing member of society; when the stereotype pictured that same “crippled” child as someone who is helpless and someone to be pitied.
Apparently my feelings on this issue are not alone as protesters gather to speak out against the award. Here is a video with more on the protest.
… I realize my life is half, so I must learn to do things halfway. I just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person… - Jerry Lewis
September 2, 1990
from Jerry Lewis’ article, “If I Had Muscular Dystrophy,” Parade magazine
We have come a long way since the days of Jerry Lewis and even the media has embraced the disability movement to demonstrate that we have a whole life not just a half of one. We have children and get married, we graduate colleges and get jobs, we play sports and dance; and we do it sitting down.
As Adidas Says Just Do It!
The 43 year run of the telethon raised 2 billion dollars, Jerry has been committed in his efforts and I believe his heart is involved with his convictions; but the telethon also embedded 43 years of pity into our society toward people with disabilities. I think we have all learned that disabled doesn’t necessarily mean limited. Having a disability is not a tragedy; the tragedy is buying into the lie that life is over when you get one.
For more information on the protest please visit the Trouble With Jerry Website.