Mid-South students with special needs perform in ‘Very Special Arts Festival’

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some Mid-South kids with special needs took the stage Friday morning at Lindenwood Christian Church, performing musical numbers and poetry for Shelby County School’s "Very Special Arts Festival."

The event inspires inclusion and spreads the message that it’s OK to be a little different.

“Many of the students are challenged — they’re intellectually disabled, many of them have speech problems and many of them have behavior problems," said Celia Moore, Shelby County Schools executive director for exceptional children and health services. "For them to be able to stand in front of us and perform is a grand opportunity for them to show that they have talents and that they have confidence enough to perform for us."

And that confidence showed in Lev’Marco Johnson’s 16-year-old son, Christopher, who represented Ridgeway High School with a solo hip-hop dance performance.

Christopher has a form of autism and can be shy, but when he stepped onto that stage it was clear that he felt like a star. His moves even inspired one of his classmates to dance in the aisles, right along with him.

“It’s always special to me ‘cause he loves performing, enjoys dancing and singing, things of that nature," Johnson said. "He gets nervous sometimes, but it’s an outlet for him to feel normal.”

Normal, but just a little different. And that’s exactly what makes these kids so special.

“They’re so proud to be able to get on stage, because many times at their schools, they don’t have opportunities to perform for their classmates," Moore said.

They don’t always feel like they fit in, so getting the chance to show off their skills for their classmates and families – without fear of judgement – means everything.

“When he’s dancing, he feels free and people treat him like they’ll treat anyone else ‘cause they don’t see a difference in him," Johnson said. “I’m always touched when I see him. I watch the other kids and I watch the interactions between everyone. It’s great to see.”

Students from seven Shelby County Schools performed Friday, and officials say they plan to do it all again next year.

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