Last modified: Thursday, May 20, 2010 11:41 PM EDT Speaker discusses disabilities with Lynn English students By Laura Paine

/ The Daily Item LYNN - The Peer Mediation Group at Lynn English High School helped to celebrate the 25th anniversary of World of Difference month by inviting Shari Zakim to speak to their classmates in an effort to build bridges in the community. The PMG first heard Zakim speak at the annual AntiDefamation League Youth conference, where she told the story of how she became disabled and the discrimination she has experienced since that time. Peer mediation and mentoring coordinator Virginia Keenan said the students "were really taken with her." "She is great," she said. "I think that her age makes a big difference. When we were at the ADL, there were 1,000 kids in that room and I looked around and made note of how many people were paying attention and how many were texting. Everybody was really just gripped by her story." Zakim, 23, is the daughter of civil rights activist Shari Zakim spoke to students at Lynn English Leonard P. Zakim and is confined to a wheelchair. She on Thursday. Item photo / Owen O'Rourke told students the story of one New Year's Eve when a Top Cab driver in Allston stopped in front of her, her sister and friend, intending to pick them up, but locked the doors and refused to give the trio a ride after seeing her wheelchair. "The irony of this is that the Top Cab logo is the Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge," she wrote in a letter to the city of Boston. "I am Lenny Zakim's daughter. My father stood for civil rights, mutual respect and the equal treatment of all people. I am sure he would have been as furious as we were at the treatment we received." Since the incident, Zakim has met with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and other Boston officials to discuss how city taxi drivers could be more sensitive to passengers in wheelchairs. Now, she is speaking to youth, which she thinks is a good way to break down barriers. "I spoke at the youth conference and some of the teachers were telling me I made an impact on the kids so I was hoping I would have an impact today," Zakim said. "I feel like there are so many judgments made about people in wheelchairs and the only way to go beyond seeing the disability instead of the person is to talk to kids. I feel like a lot of people are kind of scared when they see someone in a wheelchair. So many people offer to help me push or open a door, which I get offended by because I can do so many things by myself." To that effect, Zakim's advice to the community is to not judge a book by its cover.

Kayla Murkison, a senior and a member of PMG, said she was blown away by Zakim. "She can do anything. She is in a wheelchair but she doesn't let that stop her," Murkison said. "I think that it is important for all types of students - students with disabilities and without disabilities - to know that they can do anything if they put their mind to it. Fellow senior and PMG member Cadianne Muir agreed. "I thought (Zakim) was really great and it gave everybody a really great opportunity to hear from somebody who is disabled, from her point of view," she said. "It let them see more about it. Not everybody is normal - she is normal, but she is in a wheelchair and she can still do everything, the daily stuff that we do. For instance, she still got her license, she can still ski and do anything that a person without a disability can do. She was amazing and it is good to have everybody here." Harryette Katzen, North Shore coordinator of the Anti-Defamation League, was impressed by Zakim as well as LEHS. "She was amazing," Katzen said. "I think the kids can relate not only to her as a young person, but to her as someone who is discriminated against. I think a lot of these kids face these issues on a daily basis and Lynn English is doing a phenomenal job trying to help build bridges." Keenan said she liked how Zakim told the students one person can really make a difference and she hopes the students who heard her speak will realize they can make a difference, too. "It would be great if the kids who hear her today can realize that they as a single person can make a difference," she said. "If they see something going on that is wrong, discriminatory or even with the bullying, anything that they can say, 'OK I am one person but I can make a difference, I can do something about this.' I hope they step up to the plate."

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