From friends to brothers: UK FarmHouse initiates man with down syndrome

Josh Banks does a thumbs-up right after his official initiation into FarmHouse fraternity on Sept. 24, 2018, on UK’s campus in Lexington, Kentucky.

“I, Josh Banks,” Brack Duncan said, beginning the initiation oath for FarmHouse fraternity.

“I, Josh Banks,” repeated Josh Banks, Duncan’s long-time friend who officially became his brother on Sept. 24.

With this initiation, Banks became the first man with down syndrome to ever be initiated into a fraternity, according to Duncan’s research.

Duncan, a senior studying social studies in secondary education, is an active member of FarmHouse at UK.

Duncan paused every few words for Banks to repeat after him, but when he reached the words “FarmHouse fraternity,” the pause lengthened as he struggled to hold back his emotion.

Duncan has known Banks for more than three years; the two first met when Duncan began working at STRIDE, a recreational program for people with disabilities. Both men share Winchester as a hometown, but what made them a pair was one mutual interest: clogging.

Duncan had clogged competitively for 13 years, while Banks had been on a special needs clogging team. Their relationship began because it was Duncan’s job, he said, but it didn’t stay that way for long.

“After we got to know each other one on one, it just turned into a friendship,” Duncan said.

They spend time together a couple times a week— and Friday is “our day,” Duncan said.

They like to go to the movies or go out to eat together, and over the summer, they went to the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert.

“His favorite thing to do is just to blare country music in the car and sing,” Duncan said.

Banks first represented FarmHouse at Delta Delta Delta’s Kentucky’s Got Talent Event, when Duncan and Banks danced together.

“He wanted to be on stage so bad…” Duncan said. “We didn’t really ask, we just did it, but it ended up being really good.”

After the video of their dancing went viral, the pair teamed up with Shop Local Kentucky and raised $5,000 for down syndrome research.

“That’s really when it changed,” Duncan said. “I started to see the impact it was having on other people.”

It was around this time that FarmHouse President Ben Bohannon suggested that FarmHouse initiate Banks.

“It really just popped into my head that I really want to do something big to say thank you,” Bohannon said.

Banks had helped FarmHouse with its philanthropy, so Bohannon looked into their options and found that Banks could be an associate member, which means he has the same rights as every other member but is not a student at UK.

“It was just meant to be a thank you,” Bohannon said. “We had no idea, really didn’t, that this had never been done before, and then Brack did some research and he told me and I was like oh that’s big.”

Banks was initiated in front of active members of FarmHouse, members of TriDelt and some of Duncan’s family members.

The initiation, called the pearl ceremony, included the reading of FarmHouse’s values. Much of the ceremony was scripted and led by Bohannon.

“If I didn’t have a script, I’d be speechless,” Bohannon said. “It just excites the hell out of me.”

As part of the ceremony, FarmHouse Chaplain Carter Hench led a prayer.

“We just praise you for allowing the relationship that Brack and Josh have,” Hench prayed. “Lord, we just ask that you please help Josh grow within FarmHouse, and that he pushes FarmHouse to be better men.”

Duncan said he became emotional during the initiation because he was “seeing the way that [Josh has] changed so many people.”

“We just kind of go together, and if it wasn’t for that, this wouldn’t have happened,” Duncan said.

Duncan said that Banks already considers himself to be part of FarmHouse, so nothing is really changing for him.

“But it’s making a statement that’s a lot bigger than I can wrap my head around, but it’s pretty cool just seeing the world turn into a more accepting place and a more understanding place,” Duncan said.

Banks said he is happy to be part of FarmHouse because of “good friends.”

“He’s good,” he said when asked what he thought of Duncan.

“That’s all you think of me?” Duncan joked in response.

Duncan’s mom Tonya said Banks is Duncan’s best friend.

“If he had to choose anyone to spend time with, it’s always him,” she said.

Tonya said she was unsure at first whether Banks understood the “magnitude” of the situation.

“But I told him so many people love him, and he said, ‘I know,’ and for him to understand that, that is so special,” she said.

Bohannon said that everyone wonders if they are going to have an impact in college, and sometimes joining a fraternity is seen as just an avenue for social gatherings.

“But really, we strive to de different, and I think we’ve really shown that tonight,” he said.

Bohannon said he has heard from FarmHouse alumni that they’ve “never seen… never done anything like this before.” But Bohannon said he was just trying to be nice.

“It’s hard to explain, it really is,” he said.

Duncan said this is significant because adults with special needs often don’t have many options for activities, but joining FarmHouse allows Banks to hang out with young people.

“I don’t want to say I’m proud, but I am,” he said. “Just of the organization and just seeing this step be taken— hopefully it’s just the beginning.”