PHOENIX – A shopping trip to Target in Peoria, Arizona, a couple weeks ago was fairly routine for Oliver Garza-Pena, who is nearly 2 years old, and his mom.
But when the pair entered the boy’s clothing department, something unexpected happened.
Oliver whipped his wheelchair around to stare in awe at an ad above a clothing rack. In it was a boy like him: smiling while sitting in a wheelchair.
“He couldn’t stop looking at it,” Oliver’s mom, Demi Garza-Pena, told The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, via Facebook.
“I could immediately see that he knew he had just seen a boy like himself. Something he has never seen before,” she said of the ad.
So Garza-Pena did what mom’s do. She snapped a photo of the moment and shared it on Facebook. She has a page for Oliver called “Ollie’s World.”
The photo — shared more than 33,000 times by Sunday afternoon — captured international attention for shining a light on inclusion and representation.
Garza-Pena said her toddler son smiled big and giggled as she talked to him about the advertisement. “It touched my heart so much. It made me realize that he notices.”
She added: “It made me realize that he needs to see more of this.”
Mom hopes inclusiveness continues to expand
Garza-Pena describes Oliver as a “typical feisty 2-year-old that loves to go fast,” and adores cars, trucks and animals.
She said it was during her 18-week ultrasound while pregnant with Oliver that she learned he would be born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare condition that affects the development of the lower spine and organs.
Soon after, she started the Facebook page for Oliver to bring awareness to his condition.
Garza-Pena said the attention the recent photo of Oliver received made her realize that they’re not the only ones who think representation and inclusion needs more attention — and that she could be part of making his world more inclusive.
“Seeing the post being talked about all over the world has given me hope,” she said. “I hope the conversation continues.”
USA TODAY reports advertising and marketing efforts are increasingly diverse. The 2018 Gerber baby, Lucas Warren, has Down Syndrome. Target’s swimsuit model, Kiara Washington, has a prosthetic leg. Jillian Mercado, who uses a wheelchair, poses for Nordstrom.
Connecting with the boy in the ad
Garza-Pena’s photo made its way through social media to Massachusetts, where 10-year-old Colton Robinson, the boy featured in the Target ad, and his family, lives.
His mom, Ashley Robinson, told The Republic they were pleasantly surprised to learn of Oliver’s reaction to the ad.
“You could tell he was really connecting with it, which really means a lot to us that my son can, you know, be like a role model to him,” she said. “Colton thought it was adorable to have a little kid looking up to him … he’s never really had that before.”
Garza-Pena and Robinson have since connected on Facebook.
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Colton has spina bifida and is paralyzed from the knees down, Robinson said. In addition to modeling for Target, he’s modeled for Toys R Us and once landed a small role in a television show, according to Robinson.
“When my son was 2 years old and asking ‘when am I going to walk’ or, you know, those really hard questions, he didn’t really have anyone to look up to in a store,” she said.
Robinson said people want to see someone like themselves reflected. “We want to see people with different abilities, people with different sizes, just a wide range of different people; I think more companies need to be aware of that and, honestly, it’s the future and people are really starting to catch on.”
Courtney Kanipes, executive team leader of human resources at the Target store in Peoria, said it’s not uncommon for the company to feature ads that show there’s more than one type of person in the world.
“The cool thing about Target is we stand for an equal employment opportunity and getting to show that we truly care and we’re making a difference, even if it’s as slight as kids getting to see other kids like themselves and seeing that they’re not alone in this world,” she said.
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