2016 Access Press Charlie Smith Award winner Cliff Poetz personifies the rallying cry, “Nothing about us, without
us.” The legendary self-advocate, whose work has taken him from the streets of Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., was honored November 4 at the newspaper’s annual banquet in Bloomington.
The award is named for the late Charlie Smith, Access Press founding editor. Newspaper Board Chairperson Kristin Jorenby and Executive Director Tim Benjamin saluted Poetz for his groundbreaking work. “We could not be more proud,” said Benjamin.
Poetz’s career was highlighted by a video made by Jerry Smith of the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration. Audience members cheered highlights of Poetz’s self-advocacy career and laughed at Poetz depicted on Mount Rushmore and in other humorous situations. Poetz himself roared with laughter.
If Minnesota had a Mount Rushmore for pioneering self-advocates, Poetz would be one of the faces on it. He has been a vocal and endearing presence in statewide and national disabilities issues since moving from Watertown to Minneapolis in the 1970s. Deinstitutionalization, community-based employment, working toward more inclusive and respectful language, creation of the direct support provider program and many other issues bear his imprint.
Poetz’s acceptance speech was not only a trip down Memory Lane of his many accomplishments but also a call to action for people with disabilities. “I think we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go,” Poetz said.
Minnesota’s disability community hasn’t been doing a good job of getting their message and their needs across to policymakers. Self-advocates need to be in it for the long haul and do better at civic engagement, he said. They need to develop relationships with policymakers. “It’s nice to go to Disability Day at the Capitol. But we need to call and have people get to know us.” Read more about Poetz and the banquet in the December issue of Access Press.