I have been reflecting on my life and the things that I am most proud of. It is a wonder to me that I would do this at the time of Martin Luther King’s Birthday and during African Heritage Month. The things that I am most proud of are my disability, my business, my family, my significant other, and my volunteerism. I am proud of these, as they have helped to mold me into the person that I am today. My disability has caused me to be determined, but passionate. My children have given me the opportunity to express my Love and appreciation for those that truly depended on me. My parents taught me to be self-sufficient and take responsibility for my actions. My family taught me how to survive and to thrive in this world. My significant other helps me to realize that I can share myself with someone without the fear of her taking advantage of me. My grandchildren give me the gift of continued youth and taking care of myself. My business gives me the opportunity to serve others. My volunteerism gives me the opportunity to give back to my community some of that, which has been given to me.
These things and so many more I have done despite my disability. I had tons of help and support along the way from hundreds of people. I have experienced the meanness of youth, the ignorance of adults, the slap of discrimination, and the horror of inequality based on stereotyping. I am not complaining. I am really celebrating the gift of life. I grew up in Inner-city St. Louis, MO during the 60’s and early 70’s. I experienced life to its fullest as I grew up in a “Village” as a child. The one thing I regret is I did not get the opportunity to play organized sports as a youth. Coaches, parents, teachers, and others were not trained to work with “crippled children,” and my abilities were ignored. This situation is better today, but not perfect with the ADA and Civil Right’s protections. I did not have a “role model” with a disability of any kind that I could relate to, to model my life after. There was an actor in a television western that walked with a limp, but I could not connect the dots to my life.
None of this stopped me from having dreams, setting goals and realizing many of them today. I dreamed of owning my own business, I dreamed of being a parent, I dreamed of being a role model and providing inspiration to others. I dreamed of sharing my life experience with others so that they may not have to suffer the injustices I did. I dreamed of being able to be a voice for those that believe they have no voice.
By the way, my disability is that I am partially paralyzed on my left side. In our history, there are many African Americans with disabilities that I could have looked up to. As our history is not properly taught in our school systems, it is our responsibility to educate our selves about our history. I did a little research and found many people in our history had disabilities of some kind. Wilma Rudolph had Polio, and also suffered from bouts with Pneumonia and Scarlet Fever as a child: First American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics 1960. Harriet Tubman-Epilepsy/Narcolepsy: Conducted 300 slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Did you know that being partially paralyzed has not prevented me from being normal? I do things a little differently than a person with full mobility on both sides, but I can do whatever I want to do. I have been able to survive three near drownings, a severe auto accident, being assaulted with a deadly weapon and having to drive 13 miles to a police station to get assistance, and a near fall from a rooftop. I have been and readily accept the challenges that my disability presents to me on a daily basis. I will readily admit that there have been times due to my determination and iron will that I have tried to do some things that I should not have. In trying to accomplish these tasks, I realized a few additional limitations I have.
I own and operate a service company. Several weeks ago I was sent to see a physical therapist because I was experiencing on-going minor pain in my arm and hand. The therapist took several measurements of my arm and hand, and examined my neck and shoulders. After the examination, she determined that most of the pain I was experiencing was due to “over use of my arm and hand.” This caused my muscles to be in a constant state of stress. Today after several weeks of following her recommendations for daily stretching, my arm, neck and shoulders, I feel better today than they have in at least three years.
Additionally, another aspect of my life that I am proud of is the relationships that I have been able to build and maintain with many of our senior/elder community members. Many of them through the aging process have developed a disability, but they continue to be thriving productive members of our community. Once again someone assisted me in my life to continue my work in the community. One aspect of my work is to help our youth respect, honor, understand, and support our senior/elders through service and to help our senior/elders to respect, support, and cherish our youth through acceptance to help all of us build a better community. Both of these vital important groups of our community have fears of each other that we, in the middle, need to realize and help in dispelling the fears.
In our history there are African Americans with disabilities that have overcome their disability to be successful. Whoopi Goldberg: learning disability and a High School Drop-out, gained notoriety with one woman show [Spook Show], debut on Broadway 1983, won an Academy Award for the movie Ghost, and appeared in a number of movies and television shows. Stevie Wonder: Blind, learned to play drums, piano and harmonica by the age of nine, pioneered the use of Synthesizers in music during the 1970’s, won three Grammy awards in 1972, toured with the Rolling Stones in 1972, Grammy for Album of the year 1974, 1979 first Platinum Album.