A wonderful mentor and friend, Cathy Nelson, once told me, “I’m in that uncomfortable spot again. D***! Now I’m going to have to do something about it!” Cathy taught me many things about teaching and being a voice with and for students and I’ve never forgotten that brief
moment. Last summer I had an epiphany, a moment of revelation, where I knew I had no choice but to do something about it. I had been reading a book on the importance of parents imparting their culture and history to their children, especially children from minority cultures. This betters their self-esteem, connects them to their past and present, and is vital to their educational success.
I too come from a minority culture, the culture of disability. But wait…although it is beneficial for my children to understand that I come from this culture, it is not my two non-disabled daughters who need this information in order to survive. It is the next generation of persons with
I can think of no other culture in which history and cultural information is not passed on to the next generation of immediate family, but rather to the next generation of strangers who happen into this culture due to accident, disease, or genetics. I NEED to pass on what I know of disability culture and history. I realize I MUST pass this on to persons I haven’t even met yet. The only question is HOW?
Here is the Epiphany! I called Charlie Smith and told him I wanted to do a magazine that was by students with disabilities. It would be read by non-disabled and disabled alike. I asked Charlie, “How do I start?” After some sage advice from Charlie, I was ready to begin. I called on another wonderful mentor and colleague, Craig Dunn, from VSA Arts of Minnesota.
Craig gave us a grant of $500.00 and access to a network of teachers in special education throughout the metro area. I asked a teaching colleague of mine, Alison Konkol from Columbia Heights Alternative Learning Center, would her class like to do the layout? She said “Yes!” I had to decide on a theme. What are Reflections? I asked students from grades 6-12 to answer any of the following questions: “How do you see yourself? How do you think others see you? How would you like others to see you? How would you want the world to be? What part does disability play in how you view yourself, how others view you, how the world views you?”
I asked for essays, poems, short stories, and/or black-and-white art. The E-mails were sent. Who would respond?
I wish to thank the very dedicated teachers who looked at the E-mail and actually responded to it! Thank you for your time. I also wish to thank the courageous students who submitted their work. The quality of their pieces is incredible.
The next step was to ask students from the University of Minnesota Disabled Student Cultural Center to help put the order of the magazine together. Again, I thank them for their help and dedication.
Finally, I contacted another colleague and friend, Bob Welch from IBI Graphics who had helped me in the past with another work I edited.
After many months and numerous rough drafts, REFLECTIONS was actually printed. My dream had come true. Now it was time to CELEBRATE! Columbia Heights School District graciously allowed us the use of their new community room. Teachers ordered buses for their students. I
ordered cheeseburgers from McDonald’s and they graciously donated some orange drink.
IBI Graphics delivered the magazines, VSA Arts of Minnesota was there to take orders and collects payments, as well as help take pictures of our Signing Party. We had 40 people show up to hear the authors and illustrators read or tell about their work. We had family and friends of
students come to buy copies of the magazine and to say congratulations. One student even gave up a trip to ValleyFair because this signing party was more important! I was asked if there would be a volume two of REFLECTIONS. The teachers want it, and the students are already thinking about what they might do for next year. There goes that darned uncomfortable spot again. There is only one answer: OF COURSE! See you next year!
The signing party was dedicated in memory of Charlie Smith, who would be smiling at this wonderful event and whom I miss.
Linda Larson is the editor of REFLECTIONS MAGAZINE
REFLECTIONS MAGAZINE can be purchased through VSA arts of Minnesota. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org: call 612-332-3888 (V&TTY): FAX 612-305-0132: write VSA arts of Minnesota, 528 Hennepin Av., Suite 305, Mpls., MN 55403. Copies are $5/ea. for 1-9 copies, $3/ea. for 10 or