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Worth Paying For: Winning in the Fight for Inclusion by Losing My Very Last Argument with My Father

I had a long-standing argument with my late father.  He wanted me to seek funders for my inclusion work, and I was never sure what they were paying for.  I wrote a piece a while back about the importance of funding disability, and about the idea that if folks supported the work that I did, then maybe they should help to support my living costs.  I still believe every word I wrote here, but, in the wake of my father’s untimely death, I finally understand what I’m actually asking you to pay for.  I see what he saw, or at least I hope so.

A few months ago, I was approached to give the opening plenary at the biennial convention of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY).  Those who have read this blog regularly know the critical role that NFTY and the URJ camps have played in my life, and so I was honored to be asked to charge the youth on the question of inclusion.

My father had always emphasized the human imperative and potential to agitate for positive change, and he particularly saw the importance of reaching and teaching young people, which led him to be an active voice in youth programming throughout his entire rabbinate.

With this in mind, I began to work on the speech to encourage the teens to take a radical view of inclusion, an inclusion that presupposes access, both programmatic and physical, before it is ever requested.  An inclusion that simply refuses to accept the idea that some are not welcome.  Most importantly, an inclusion that understands that we include people with disabilities because of the immense value that their participation brings for us, not for the mythical “them”.

My father died suddenly a week before I was to give this speech, but I knew that the only real way that I could honor his memory was to give it anyway, and so, with a heavy heart, I arose from my house of mourning to speak, uncharacteristically without time to memorize it.  You can find my speech here, but,as it turns out that was not the exciting part.

Beginning with the questions that you see in the video, moving to informal discussions as I works to exit the auditorium, then in a breakout session with 100 of the teens the next day, I was amazed to see not only their fire, but their insight.  It’s true that I started the conversation, and, in the small group, facilitated it.

What that ideA fails to encompass is the enthusiasm, insight, experience and creativity they brought.  Between them they hashed out an incredible blueprint for new youth programming and policies to allow full participation of teens with disabilities.  Dozens of them came up to me to talk about the exciting work that they were going to do when they got home, and I have begun discussions with NFTY itself to see how the work can be facilitated.

My father was right, it’s amazing what happens when you light the fire.

In the wake of the speech, people have begun to approach me about going on the road to light the fire elsewhere, to speaking congregations and in camps, and I hope also in secular environments, to facilitate discussion and action as probably as possible.  I would like to dedicate myself to this mission.

In order to do that, I need my basic financial needs to be met for the next 12 to 18 months.

For the first time, I feel comfortable asking for it.  I finally see what my father saw about what I can accomplish if I’m freed up to do the work.  More than that, I see that this can become a self-sustaining framework.  People pay speakers and teachers, and once I have a busy enough schedule, the work will pay for rent and food, but it takes time to build up.  I think that I’m poised to do something important and now I am asking for the resources to start the process.  If you are reading and believe that you can be a part of helping me to affect this change, please visit my go fund me page, and give whatever you are able.  I have the will to bring the dream alive, and my audience has the power to make it a reality.  I’m asking you to bring us together.  Thank you.

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