“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
On this week’s edition of
The Redefining Disability Awareness Challenge,
there are several things criss-crossing here.
Today’s Memoir Monday is not only about my memories and about redefining disability, but it’s known as Blue Monday, I am still spreading my message for #1000Speak, and in the US it is known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
so how are all these things connected?
So how can I speak about all of these? Well, I’m sure going to try.
Last week I answered a question for RDAC about the biggest challenge I face with my disability,
Making The World Accessible: The 75% PRoblem.
This week is asking about my family, but from my perspective on things and I feel the answer lies connected with my post from last week.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges that your family members face in regard to disability?
A: I think the biggest challenge, for my loved ones, is not the disability, but the rest of the world…
(Stop me if I’m way off here guys.)
I am lucky to have them and I know it. I was not neglected or mistreated. I was not loathed or resented or given up on.
So so far from all of those things.
My family love me for me, exactly who I am. It’s the rest of it that worries them.
Martin Luther King Day is mostly celebrated in the country of his birth and of which he lived. Although it is celebrated in the US mostly, I did learn that Toronto is one of the other places where today is a celebrated and a recognized special occasion.
I choose to use “I Have A Dream” to illustrate my point and to answer today’s question.
Martin Luther King spoke, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech about segregation and about his dream of a desegregated population.
I know it can not be compared, not really, but I can’t help feeling a deep connection with this day, with this speech, and with the man who gave it.
I am white and I do not know what it’s like to be treated differently because of the colour of my skin, but I do know what it’s like to feel closed off from the rest of the world. I know how it feels to be segregated, in more ways than one, from the world around me.
I listen to King’s powerful words and I feel a tingly sensation to my core. I have dreams too.
So do my loved ones.
From the first moment it hit my parents that I was going to face some difficult times growing up, due to the fact that I could not see like everyone else, they had a dream.
They had a dream that my brother and I would be able to grow up and become adults, in a world where differences weren’t emphasized for their separateness and frowned upon, but instead celebrated and highlighted for the uniqueness introduced to the world.
They had a dream that I would find friends, get an education, and find my place in the world. That I would find employment, acceptance, and love and happiness, all the same things any parent would want for their child.
“That all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
King was speaking about race, but not only that:
“from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city,” and “black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics,” were all mentioned here.
Disability was not. I believe we are embarking on the days of fighting for the rights of those with disabilities, in a way, like society was at with race fifty years ago.
I know these struggles are ongoing when it comes to race, but they extend to anyone with a disability. society is slow to adjust to the differences it sees and feels unable to cope with. This is the challenge my parents especially must handle.
They never stop worrying about us, not even as we’ve grown into adults. They will never stop.
What do they worry about when, one day, they won’t be around to watch out for us any longer?
What do my two sighted siblings worry about? Do they fear, not selfishly but realistically, once they must take on any perceived or real extra responsibility, with selfless concern for us?
When that day comes, where in life will I be and how much farther will the rest of society have come in regards to acceptance and inclusion?
It is a mostly silent and behind-the-scenes disregard. It is not openly hostile, like it has historically been for those of other races. There has been educational segregation. This has slowly lessened as time has gone on.
It’s hard not to feel feelings of bitterness and anger sometimes. I know my family have felt it for me, feelings of indignation for how the world sometimes looks down at me for daring to have a disability which makes a lot of people ucomfortable. The challenge, for me and them, has been to not let those feelings control how we’ve looked at the rest of the world.
King spoke of “their destiny being tied up with our destiny.”
Maybe one day soon the world will realize that we are all one, connected through being human, regardless of our differences, be them skin colour, religion, or our abilities.
King goes on to speak about dignity. The challenge, in my case, is to find this right to dignity that we all are entitled to. The challenge is to find it and I owe my family for all they’ve done to help me get my share.
I was lucky to be born here in Canada. My family have never truly had to discover what it felt like to be fearful for my physical safety.
I do not mean to say that the experiences MLK spoke of are all that similar to those of someone, like myself, born with a disability. However, there are just some similarities that I can not ignore.
It all boils down to dreams in the end, the dreams we all have for a more tolerant and loving society.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This is possibly the most famous line from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
My parents too had four children. Their biggest dream would also and always have been that the four of us (two born with disabilities and two not) would grow up in a world of less judgement of those differences that stand out, and more recognition of the way we treat others and conduct ourselves, as kind and decent human beings.
This is the challenge, to learn how to deal with an imperfect and fallible world, all while remaining happy and safe within that world.
King said: “the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight,” and this is a challenge that my family all must tackle. They must know how to trust that our path in life, literally and figuratively, will be a safe enough one for my brother and myself to walk along, whether with them or by our selves.
They had to discover, from the first time I fell or hurt myself on an object in my path that I did not see, that I would be okay and that they could not protect me from everything, all the time.
A huge part of King’s words were about discrimination, the word and the act of discriminating against someone because of the colour of their skin.
discrimination comes in many forms and I have felt discriminated against, of course, in my own way. I was spared violence and outright hatred, but I felt looked down on still. I felt lesser than and like something to be ashamed of and hidden away.
My family must look in on this sort of thing, often from the sidelines, and feel the helplessness of how far we have yet to come.
We may be fifty or so years ahead of King and his words, but the challenges to the dream we all have are still there.
So much of this speech stays with me and gives me hope whenever I hear these words, spoken so eloquently.
Over the next month I will be writing all my blog posts with #1000Speak on my mind.
I will get through the cold winter days to come, speaking my own message of hope, with the words of Martin Luther King running through my mind, and the energy I feel from 1000 Voices Speak For Compassion because it all comes out to the same thing.
I have my own dream for the world and my compassion and the compassion of others is at the centre of all of it.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”