by Nathan Pilling, Public Relations Writer
Mark Zimmerman, a 2001 graduate of the department of English, literature and modern languages at Cedarville University, is raising awareness for Down syndrome through the message contained in a book he wrote. But it’s more personal than just relating facts and sharing anecdotes. His message is one of family, understanding and Christian care.
Zimmerman’s speaking and writing to raise awareness about Down syndrome have taken him to many places and have introduced him to many people, but the reason he does this work is not for either of these. His work is all tied back to his brother Stephen, who has Down syndrome.
One of the main ways he has sought to convince Christians to care for both those with Down syndrome and their families has been by showing them who his brother is and what his life is like. In 2012, Zimmerman wrote a book to carry this cause to the hearts and minds of Christians across the world. “Introducing Stephen: Scenes from a Life Well Lived with Down Syndrome,” is a series of 101 short vignettes that illustrate the lives that both Stephen and his family live.
“I really wanted to increase the number of stakeholders in my brother’s life,” he said. “I wanted people to understand who he is and then by extension understand who people with mental disabilities are.” Each story helps to introduce readers to Stephen by providing a short story or characteristic about the brother who inspired Zimmerman’s passion.
These stories have allowed Zimmerman to introduce Stephen’s story to a variety of people, including Pat Sajak (who Stephen is a big fan of), Rebecca Miller (wife of actor Daniel Day Lewis), photographer Inge Morath and Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers. Rodgers, who has a son with Down syndrome, read the book and invited Zimmerman to come to her Washington, D.C., office, where Zimmerman’s family were able to meet her and discuss legislative issues related to Down syndrome.
Whether it’s through a church newsletter or a speaking engagement about this topic, Zimmerman is tirelessly working to help others understand who his brother is. As he raises awareness by speaking and writing in any medium he can, Zimmerman hopes his work will help Christians individually and churches collectively to become involved in helping families affected by Down syndrome.
He clearly remembers what triggered his desire to raise awareness about this issue. Back in 2011, Zimmerman sat at his computer reading an article calling for the after-birth abortion of children with Down syndrome. Appalled, he started to do more research about this topic.
“I realized the abortion rate for babies with Down syndrome was somewhere between 50-90 percent in the United States – nobody really knows,” he said. Zimmerman came to realize that this issue was an opportunity for him to get involved, especially because of his personal connection.
After contacting others who were already influential in raising awareness about bioethics-related causes, he came to realize that he could not just convince people not to abort their baby with Down syndrome. He had to convince the church to help those who decided to keep their child.
“You really need to have Christians who can not only stand up to make a pro-life argument, but also who would be willing to roll up their sleeves and actually take care of children and families and provide for them,” he said.
As he reflects back on his time at Cedarville, he counts the time he spent speaking and working with Kevin Heath, Ph.D., professor of English, as very influential in helping him find his identity as a writer. It was at Cedarville that he first saw the power of creative nonfiction writing.
“I like to write and do other artistic endeavors to show, to promote, to communicate, to bridge the gap between people with Down syndrome and people with typical capabilities,” he said.
His awareness campaign is always expanding, and he is always looking for new ways to spread Stephen’s story. For instance, Zimmerman recently interviewed his brother for the German magazine, Ohrenkuss, a publication created by and for those with Down syndrome. He also recently started a blog to promote awareness of the issue.
“I believe that through art, through writing, I can help to reduce the stigma that’s attached to mental disability,” he said. “I want to encourage people with mental disabilities and their families so that they don’t feel alone. I think that through writing you can influence people to have a softer heart, to be more sympathetic and to identify with people with disabilities.”
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University attracts 3,400 undergraduate, graduate and online students to more than 100 areas of study. Inspiring greatness for over 125 years, Cedarville is a Christ-centered learning community recognized nationally for rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. Visit the University online at www.cedarville.edu.