by O’Ryan Case, UCP’s Manager of Public Education Programs
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Allan Assel and his daughter, Morgan, whose recent story which included professional quarterback, Robert Griffin III (RGIII), was shared all over the country. Morgan, whose close friend and classmate, Juwaan Espinal, happens to have cerebral palsy (CP), used social media to come up with a fool-proof plan of making sure she was the lucky one who Juwaan would accompany at their Centreville High School prom in Virginia. When Morgan,joined by United States Olympic Fencer, Nzingha Prescod and Juwaan’s favorite football player, RGIII, asked Juwaan to prom, he quickly accepted. See below to check out the interview with Allan and Morgan!
Interview with Allan Assel (AA) and Morgan Assel (MA):
Thank you both so much for taking the time to share your story with our UCP audience! First, we all want to know– how did prom go?
MA: Prom was awesome! Juwaan really likes to dance, so we danced a lot and ate some really good food. We had a lot of fun and it was an amazing time.
That sounds like a great time! Were you tired from all of that dancing?
MA: Oh yes, we were definitely tired the next day.
So, as part of our work here at UCP, we work to ensure that everyone of all abilities can live their lives without limits. Your story was shared all around the country. However, it wasn’t the fact of Juwaan going to prom that caught our attention, but rather the great lengths you went to in order to make your ask so special. Can you talk about what it was that made you go these great lengths?
MA: Juwaan absolutely deserved all of it. He goes through a lot but always remains positive. It wasn’t difficult for me to want to find a way to help make the day so special. If anyone deserved it, it was Juwaan. And if there’s anyone I’d want to go to prom with, it was definitely Juwaan.
It sounds like throughout all of your planning, your thinking wasn’t centered around whether or not Juwaan could go to prom, but instead around how to make the ask so special that he would tell you yes.
MA: Yeah, he’s pretty popular so I had to make sure I was the one he would take to prom. I didn’t want anyone else to beat me to him!
Allan, what were your thoughts when you heard of Morgan’s plan and what did you think would happen?
AA: The very first thought was that I was impressed with her reverse social-engineering skills! I was impressed by how she contacted a U.S. Olympic Fencer, Nzinga Prescott, who helped her get in touch with RGIII. Initially, she organized an event at the school to help add to all of the excitement. But it kind of fell through and she had to work with the school and other officials to make everything happen. We were all very proud of her.
Morgan, when did you decide you were going to try to make this happen?
MA: I’ve known all year that I wanted to ask Juwaan to prom. But I came up with my plan around the end of April.
So you’ve known Juwaan for a little while. Can you tell us a little about your friendship?
MA: We’re juniors now and we met during our freshman year at gym class. We text a lot, chat on social media and do all kinds of things like bowling and going to our school’s football games. We just went to Chipotle for his birthday!
Have you ever known anyone else with a disability? What would say Juwaan has taught you about CP and other disabilities?
MA: I’ve known other individuals with disabilities but no one else who has CP. I’ve learned that he’s just like me and all of our other classmates. People may assume he’s different but he likes to go to the same places, do the same things and has the same sense of humor as everyone else. He’s not “special needs,” he’s a special guy.
And he likes to go to Chipotle, just like almost everyone else!
I’ll open this up to both of you. What would you say are your biggest takeaways from all of this?
MA: Mine is to be kind to people. A lot of people have been messaging me on social media and telling me that I’m a good person but it doesn’t take much to be kind and a friend to someone. It shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it was but instead, it should be a common place where we include everyone and be kind to one another.
AA: Outside of seeing him at the football games, I didn’t really know Juwaan before all of this. I knew he was a part of the football team and figured he was cool. But the coolest thing was when I had the chance to meet and see him interact with everyone. You can almost feel the love. I was happy he took my daughter to prom; although I did tell him to not keep her out too late!
Another thing that impressed me was the amount of love that he and his family share. After we took pictures right before prom, it took almost twenty minutes to get Juwaan and his wheelchair into the car. I was amazed at how long it took and how much work he and his family go through to transfer in and out of a vehicle.
With so much going on and your story spreading everywhere, what would you like to see come out of all of this?
MA: I would love it if people would include everyone of all abilities more throughout life. In high school, it can be difficult to open up your eyes and see that everyone around you goes through similar challenges, but I would love it if everyone would spend more time with and include one another.
AA: The thing that I took away from everything is, again, getting to know Juwaan and his family. After prom, I learned that Juwaan’s mother has been trying to buy an accessible van. Juwaan hasn’t gone to the mall or grocery store in a long time because getting in and out of his family car takes a lot of extra work. This story is good on so many different layers and prom will be a phenomenal memory, but I’d like to see it touch the quality of life for Juwaan and his family. I’ve pitched in to his mother’s GoFundMe site, which can be found by searching online for “van for Juwaan.”
One last question, Morgan. You’re a junior and may have set the bar just a little high this year for when it comes to asking someone to prom. Will you fill us in on any ideas you may have for next year?
MA: I honestly have no idea. I don’t really know how this can be topped so I’ll have to think about it for a while!
You really went above and beyond– not just with your ask to prom but for opening your eyes to get to know others around you. Thank you both again for taking the time out to speak with UCP and we look forward to sharing this and some of your photos with our audience!
MA: Sounds great!
AA: Awesome! We look forward to it!
It was great to chat with Allan and Morgan Assel. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this story, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Allan (@aja4304) or Morgan (@morganassel) on Twitter. You can find UCP (@UCPnational) on Twitter as well!