After being mocked by a retired NBA star on Instagram, Jahmel Binion decided to turn a humiliating moment into a teaching opportunity.
The 23-year-old, from Michigan, who has the rare genetic disorder ectodermal dysplasia, was initially thrust before the public eye when Shaquille O’Neal posted a picture of his own contorted face beside Binion’s selfie.
“Smile today,” read the caption, mocking the young man, whose condition is commonly characterized by malformed and missing teeth, sparse hair growth and the inability to sweat. More than 14,000 users liked the post, which has since been deleted.
Former college athlete Trey Burke and rapper Waka Flocka Flame reportedly joined in on the teasing, as well.
“When I found out, I asked my brother, 'What are you going to do?’” Binion’s sister, Asia, 19, told BET.com. Seeing her brother become depressed from the incident, she prompted him to speak with a local news station.
Once local reporters broke the incident, the three men came under fire for their taunts. O’Neal and Trey Burke have since called and apologized to Binion, while all three men posted apologies on Twitter.
"Made a new friend today when I called and apologized to Jahmel Binion. Great dude.#alwayslearning #MYBADCUZ,” read a tweet on O’Neal’s account.
While Binion’s sister questions the sincerity of their apologies, she and her brother have chosen to focus less on the bashing of O’Neal and the others and more on the story’s unsuspected twist.
Finding inspiration in those cruel taunts, Binion launched an anti-bullying campaign called "Hug Don’t Judge" on Facebook last Saturday. By Thursday afternoon, the group had attracted nearly 20,000 members, many of whom have or know of someone with ectodermal dysplasia or a similar disorder.
"In all his 23 years of life, I don't think he's ever met another person with the same disease as him,” Asia said.
"People from Germany, Australia and from everywhere, really, are reaching out to him."
"I am loving this group!” wrote one woman whose 3-year-old son was recently diagnosed with ectodermal dysplasia. "We love looking through all of the pictures people post here and it makes it so much easier to explain to him that it is OK to be different. Thank you for starting this!”
Shocked but not intimidated by the sheer size and quick growth of his first online campaign, Binion told BET that he hopes to continue raising awareness about bullying and his own disease.
“Just enjoy the families that are opening their hearts to everybody,” he said.
"For a lot of people, it seems like it's hard to do that, but in my organization everyone feels comfortable and we make everyone feel welcome."
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(Photo: Courtesy of Jahmel Binion via Facebook)