On Thursday March 31, 2005 disability rights advocates from around the country gathered at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) to celebrate an exhibition on disability rights. The centerpiece of the six week exhibition (March 8th — April 24th) is the Disability History Wall, a 21-panel collage created by St. Paul-based Advocating Change Together (ACT). Also contributing material to the current BCRI exhibition are Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) and the Alabama People First. Their videos, posters, and various relics capture the spirit of the modern disability rights struggle, telling firsthand stories of peoples’ struggles and victories.
The Disability History Wall reaches back five millennia to reveal the lives of people with disabilities throughout history. Viewers experience powerful feelings as they explore, in pictures and words, the ancient origins of today’s disability stereotypes. The uplifting images in the last panels give powerful tribute to the human spirit. Here the viewer finds disability rights activists demanding freedom and equality, massive rallies for legislative change, and close-up faces of dignity and power.
The BCRI sees the exhibition as a perfect fit with their mission. “Making connections between disability and other civil and human rights struggles is what this exhibition is all about,” says Ahmad Ward, Head of Education at the Institute. “It realistically portrays a long history of institutionalized oppression and helps us understand disability from a civil rights viewpoint.” Carol Robinson, ACT board member, traveled from St. Paul to Birmingham to view the exhibit and speak to those gathered. Robinson was one of several speakers who made connections between the disability rights movement and other civil and human rights struggles. Robinson asserts that a disability focus at the BCRI is not just about looking at past history, “We are making history because we are saying that disability is important and deserves the same attention as other rights struggles.”
Ward noted the importance of this exhibition in the broader struggle. “Understanding the past in relation to the present and the future is the mission of the BCRI. This exhibit’s look at history from a disability perspective is significant.” He adds, “The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute takes seriously its role in promoting disability as a civil rights issue. We are committed to partnering with the disability community in seeking a deeper understanding of disability from a minority and cultural perspective.”
(read by poet Gail Bottoms at BCRI event, March 31, 2005)
My alligator got away yesterday,
Just got out of his pen and slipped away.
The last time I spotted him, he was
going toward Atlanta uptown,
I ran behind him, I ran up and down.
The last time I saw him, he was on the Capitol steps, with people jumping with screams and yelps. Up the steps and in the door, I couldn’t see him anymore,
so I went back home and closed the door. He ate all the nursing home lobbyists on the forth floor,
then he went searching for more.
A little while later I heard something outside, I looked out and there laid Clyde! I ran to him and stood by his side,
he was so full of money; he laid down and died.