Intersectionality. Social Movements. The Media. Dr. King was recorded, filmed and/or broadcasted saying the following, “We have no moral choice but to continue the struggle, not just for Black Americans, but for all Americans.” “The time is always right to do right;” “We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around;” “We are here to say, “We are not afraid;’” “You have to create a crisis so the power structures are forced to answer;” “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
By now, you all know that CCDC does not close down on Martin Luther King Day. We believe strongly that it would be the wrong way to pay tribute to this great leader for a civil rights organization to close its operations when civil rights is our cause, our work, and our passion! We also believe in the intersectionality of all social movements.
Dr. King stood for and died for social justice for all. Yes, I mean ALL. Let us not honor his short life with pleasant niceties. Our country, our state, our local communities and each one of us are in crisis: The country’s time-clock is being turned backward: Some want a wall to keep people seeking asylum out (sure, they tell it another way), but the yet-to-be explained wall will keep out people who, we are told on TV are “rapists, murderers and drug dealers,” not asylum-seekers.
BORING HISTORY: After I became a quadriplegic after I was already in college, I was trying to figure out a way to make a living so I could afford the things I needed as a person with a disability who needed home healthcare. The year was 1986. The ADA had not yet passed. I had never heard of a “disability rights movement.” I was 19. I lived in South Carolina at the time. I had gone back to college in South Carolina. I did so through self-advocacy, persistence, resistance and fighting all the way. I just didn’t know that I didn’t have to go it alone. I moved to Denver, Colorado in 1990. Something called the “Americans with Disabilities Act” passed in 1990. I came to the Denver area from South Carolina to do my rehab at Craig Hospital in 1986 after my injury. I returned to South Carolina the same year. I had Medicaid. Home healthcare was a joke. Accessibility did not exist. And on and on. I came to Craig again in 1989 to deal with surgery for a skin sore and surgery on my arm to try to improve my functional skills. As a result of that second surgery, my stay was extended. I lived in the outpatient apartments and used home healthcare provided by a Denver agency. I also got to tour Denver. I was astonished that home healthcare services were fantastic. I remember being so afraid of home healthcare when I was 1500 miles from my then home. I was also amazed by the accessibility of the city. This was a year before the passage of the ADA! Then and there I decided to move to Denver. A quadriplegic who did not know anybody and did not understand anything about home healthcare services or accessibility. Other than the fact that I wasn’t getting either in South Carolina. I also did not understand very much about the power and necessity of all social justice movements. Wake up, Kevin!
HISTORY MEETS REALITY: Why? Many of you know: Atlantis/ADAPT! Their work, their struggles, their battles with discrimination, their unnecessary pain and suffering, their protests, their arrests, their political and legislative work, their MEDIA COVERAGE and their lives! That was a big part of my answer. I just didn’t know it yet. To those who have fought and died who I never met, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my clients and to those who have always believed, I fell in love with you and my lower affair continues. And I know you now.
Little by little, by dribs and drabs and by the greatest human fortune, I did learn. I didn’t know. I actually was a part of the disability community. I could do something. I was not alone.
During my undergraduate years at CU Denver, I switched my degree to political science. Law School bound. Still thinking about almighty dollar! Gotta save myself from the worries of my very expensive life. Made more expensive by going to work. After all, without all of those Medicaid dollars, the law would not let me go to work. Dumb system. There I was. Like so many: Subsidized housing. On SSDI/SSI. Medicaid only comes with SSI, right? Go to work = No Medicaid = no health insurance! Must pay for it myself: Pre-existing condition. No private health insurance = approximately $50,000 for home healthcare alone. What about all of those medical supplies? Motorized Wheelchairs? Unbelievable number of doctors’ appointments? Hospitalizations? Must lop that off the top of my salary.
So, why didn’t I know about work incentive programs for people with disabilities? It was a well-kept secret.
Clearly, I still wasn’t woke! But I just might be the luckiest person alive.
WOKE KEVIN: I met members of the disability rights community. I learned their stories. Our stories. I still wanted more school though. I still had to pay for my life.
A voracious reader. Before I read documents all day long as I do now (especially stuff by lawyers working for those who oppose us), I read for pleasure and for understanding. I began reading everything I possibly could about the Civil Rights movements, but mostly about Black Civil Rights. Took every class I could possibly take on socially equality, social injustice, social movements, social legislative change. What it means to be a human in America. Parting the Waters remains a favorite book. The series is good as well.
MARTIN LUTHER KING: And others. Dr. King had the answer. Their work, their struggles, their battles with discrimination, their unnecessary pain and suffering, their economic suppression, their educational inferiority, their voter suppression their protests, their arrests, their political and legislative work, their MEDIA COVERAGE and their lives! But the struggle had to continue. (Sounds exactly like what people with disabilities experience, except we come from a different place undoubtedly. MEDIA COVERAGE of the King movement changed the country, the world and us all. It spawned other movements, including the disability rights movement. The “change” that was “gonna come” came, right? Of course not. The other side has always been there. They seem to be back with a vengeance. We know it. We live it. We oppose it. Is it enough? Of course not. What would King say if he had kept going? Was that dream realized?
Take, for example, the need for the Black Lives Matter! Movement. Message to white people: Stop whining! “I worked very hard all my life from humble beginnings to get where I am at. Nobody gave me anything.” Really, white person (I am talking to myself because I happen to be one). Give me a break. Did a wall stop you and your ancestors from coming to this country? (In the case of Black Americans, the answer is clearly no. A slave ship did. One that was completely owned and operated, staffed, etc. by white people.) Did you devote your life to making the world understand the vestiges of slavery and the current state of denial in the face of civil rights laws protecting your rights? Did you not get a job because you were white (okay, a couple of you got lucky on this point in front of courts that were mostly white)? Were you ever hanging from a tree? How about your ancestors? How many of your friends, colleagues and family members are in prison? Do you know what the current proportion of Blacks versus whites is in our prison system? Did you ever get your head and your body cracked and beaten on your way to the police station? Did you ever have to spend many years meeting with innumerable legislators and many presidential administrations convincing the legislature that you needed civil rights protection? Did you ever “take a knee” to demonstrate against police killing people of your race?
Obviously, the list goes on. Dr. King understood. He was at the start, but he had great luck because visual media began burgeoning at the time of (perhaps because of? ) Dr. King’s movement.
This Martin Luther King Day and every day as fast as you can, get off your usual Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and whatever else. Get on all media focusing on what the day is about. Or just Google or YouTube to find videos posted below this paragraph. Better yet: follow Dr. King’s advice to do something right NOW! Why are some of us still dreaming? Why are so many of us still not caring? Why are so many of us still opposing? Why is Dr. King’s dream NOT a reality 50 years after his assassination? Why are Black people still being murdered in outrageous numbers and in outrageous circumstances? Why are all of us who are not wealthy (and mostly white) not paying attention? Review video and audio below. Find more. Learn. Share it widely!
The awakening can start right now; it as easy as turning your phone away from our usual timewasting activities and do as I just did, Google or YouTube it (actual footage contains violence and language as it happened; some might find reality offensive; original videos contain captioning—may require clicking CC at bottom right of video):
March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday.” Edmund Pettus Bridge. Dr. King and many (mostly Black) men, women and teenagers cross bridge into Montgomery, Alabama to ensure Black Americans can vote.
April 5, 1977. Protesters with Disabilities occupy Federal Office. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibiting discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by programs, services or activities receiving federal funding, but no regulations defining enforcement of the Act had been promulgated.
July 6, 2016. Philando Castille and Diamond Reynolds. Pulled over for a burned out traffic light. Shot and killed by white police officer (captured on police cam) while his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds uses Facebook video livestream to provide instant coverage of what happened inside the car. Obviously there are more.
August 11, 2017. Charlottesville, Virginia. “White Nationalists” and Black protesters clash over request to remove statute of Robert E. Lee. President Trump finds fault with “both sides.”
June 28, 2017. Protestors with disabilities
seeking to prevent loss of Medicaid Arrested at Colorado Senator Cory
Gardner’s Denver office after days of protests trespassing because “office
neighbor’s complained. Sen. Gardner later moved his office to a much less
wheelchair accessible location.
MEDIA attention on protests leads to legislation, maintaining legislation and judicial enforcement of legislation. Or does it? Keeping the dream alive requires all of it. TODAY!
So what will you do in 2019? -Kevin W. Williams, CCDC Civil Rights Legal Program Director