I was a shy, mousy 21-year-old, who rarely spoke, and when I did, barely above a whisper. I desperately wanted to work for social justice and social change. Having been born only three years before the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I felt guilty for not being able to fight for the civil rights of Black people.
At 16, I got involved in the peace and justice movement, but never felt at home, and never felt as if I were a real part of things. Also, I was often the only Black person taking part in the activities.
How I found ADAPT.
I joined ADAPT in 1986. At the time, I was living in Chicago, IL, my home town. A friend of my godmother called her to see if there was anyone that she knew who would be interested in working as an attendant and interpreter for a man with disabilities. The man, Dennis Schreiber, was a member of ADAPT. He traveled often, and needed someone as back-up staff.
My godmother immediately thought of me, and suggested that I apply for the job. I did, and the rest is history. For the first two years, I just hung out, quietly participating in local actions. It was amazing to be involved in the work that ADAPT was doing locally with transportation issues. I also felt at home because there were people who either looked like me, or had similar experiences.
My first national action.
In March of 1988, I was finally able to go on my first national action - DC Siege/DOT. We had been trying for months to get a meeting with the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Sam Skinner, to no avail. The action was very intense because we took over the headquarters in Washington, DC. The temperature outside was -4 degrees! We held the building for 30 hours until he finally agreed to work with us. I was forever hooked!
I meet Wade Blank and move to Colorado.
Shortly after joining ADAPT, I met Wade Blank, a national leader, and one of the co-founders. Shortly after meeting him, I moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to work with Atlantis/ADAPT. We often went to Denver to participate in actions or meetings, so I saw a lot of Wade, and learned more about organizing and activism.
In 1991, I moved to Denver to work in the main office as a community organizer, working directly with Wade, who became my mentor. Though Wade passed away only two years later, I felt enriched and blessed by being able to work with him. The pearls of wisdom that he sent my way were countless!
Over time, I grew from the aforementioned mousy chick, to a fiery activist.
I have become a national leader, sometimes helping with organizing and negotiations, but mostly helping to keep people informed, safe, and pumped up during the actions. I have also become a ham, of sorts, in ADAPT, singing, chanting, and helping to keep up our troops' spirits. Truth be told, I'm known more for being a ham than a leader!
ADAPT has changed my life. I learned how to be an activist, and catalyst for change.
I have learned (and am still learning) the political process, and policy making. Through ADAPT, I have done some really cool and amazing things. I was one of 50 ADAPT members who met with President Bill Clinton in the East Room of the White House. I have since met Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
I also helped to plan a successful two-week vigil in Colorado to protest budget cuts that could have sent hundreds of people with disabilities back into institutions, and participated in the Free Our People March, where 210 people wheeled and walked from Philadelphia, PA, to Washington, DC. ADAPT organized the March to bring awareness of, and to call for the passage of what became known as the Community Choice Act (CCA).
While living in Rochester, NY, I helped to plan a week-long vigil after the County Executive cancelled a local independent living center's consumer-directed care program contract, giving people with severe disabilities only ten days to find a home care agency that would accept them.
I now use the written word to teach and influence.
In addition to bringing out the fierce activist in me, ADAPT helped me to rekindle my love of writing. I began writing articles for Incitement, ADAPT's newsletter. Soon, I was asked to write guest columns for newspapers, magazines and blogs. I found that people liked what I wrote, even if they disagreed with me. Many people tell me that they have gained a new perspective from reading my writing and that they have learned new things.
There are two things that I'm especially proud of - I wrote a guide to planning and carrying out vigils and protests that has been used by activists around the country, and an article of mine was included in historian Howard Zinn's book, Voices of A People's History of the United States. It was the only article in the entire book that dealt with disability rights. To say that I am honored is a vast understatement!
With that, I want to thank my ADAPT family for taking me in and putting up with me. I am not the easiest person to like, yet you've accepted and loved me for almost three decades, even though I must have driven many of you up the proverbial wall. I especially want to thank those ADAPT chapters that - horror of horrors - had to deal with me living in your cities - Chicago, Colorado Springs, Denver, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Rochester, New York.
ADAPT is my life and unless you send me packing, you're stuck with me until I draw my last breath. Even when and if I can no longer be active, I will always hold you in my heart and I will always lift you up. My only hope is that I have given even one-tenth as much to you as you have given to me, and if there is anything that you know for certain about me, it's that I love you with all of my heart and soul!