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Let’s Open Our Doors and Make a Place for Everyone

Let’s Open Our Doors and Make a Place for Everyone

The other day I got a phone call from a friend. We hadn’t spoken for some time. Our friendship sprouted in the summer of 2003 when my husband, our nearly one-year-old son, and I embarked on a move from the San Luis Valley to a remote area in Garfield County. That summer we became part of a community of friends that you simply don’t make every day. 

Over the course of our conversation, we looked back on those times and talked about how we haven’t felt that same sense of community since. We discussed all the turmoil the world is now facing: “Life is crazy!” I remarked. “The headlines and current events just don’t cease to amaze me. I can’t believe the world we are living in!” Her response, “Yeah, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

One could argue with her thinking. One day inclusion won’t be something we have to strive for and the need for protests will be gone. But the truth is that we are on the brink of momentous change and we have the honor to be a part of it. You have to know the nature of this friend, she is loud, she is raw and she is honest. There are no soft edges around her obtrusive in-your-face spirit. And like our state of civil unrest, she is a force to be reckoned with. The protests, the demands for justice and equality, are cries heard around the globe - the soul of the world yearns for a better way of living together. 

I am so disappointed that this is our reality today, in the year 2020. I am amazed that everywhere I go that’s not outdoors, or when I am in proximity to those with whom I do not live, I am wearing a mask. I am baffled that when I go to the post office to pick up a package I have to ask strangers to step away and stand on the mark six feet away from me. Baffled that in the grocery check out line I had to ask a man to “please back up”, that I would be out of his way in a moment and then he could be free to look at the merchandise behind me (he was uncomfortably close for non-pandemic times and he had the audacity to argue with me!) I’m in awe that nearly half a century has passed since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and we’re STILL fighting for civil rights for Blacks and other people of color. And I’m saddened that we have the knowledge and data that shows inclusive education is far better for all students than any form of segregated learning and we’re still having this fight daily (and that’s only the beginning of civil rights issues for people with disabilities). These are tumultuous times indeed! 

But I am excited to hear so many voices demanding change. That same son, that as a baby my husband and I ventured north across the state with 17 years ago, has been out protesting twice (and by the way, he votes). Dan Wilkins spoke at the 2019 PEAK Parent Center Conference on Inclusive Education, “By and large most people want to do the right thing. They don't know how, or they don't realize they're doing something wrong. If you don't live it and breathe it, how can you know it? How can you know that door is too narrow or that ramp's too steep or isn't there at all? So I believe given correct, real information real awareness to real questions, people in the community will begin to consider disabilities in a different light. With greater respect and equity and a higher expectation for what is possible. When we make a conscious effort to share and spread that new awareness, this new way of thinking, sharing this high expectation, good things will happen.” Wilkins’ talk reminds me of a Maya Angelou quote (and if you’ve been to a PEAK workshop that Shirley Swope has led, I bet you’ve heard this quote too). “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We are a part of this movement that is working to make society better. We, collectively, are part of the solution. And our voice is getting louder. 

Circling back to that summer of 2003 and the following year and a half on our large collective lawn nestled between the walls of a canyon north of Rifle, Colorado, there were picnics and nights beside the fire. We had parties in each of our homes - birthdays, Halloween, and more. We were seven, eightish families that gathered, understood, enjoyed, and loved one another. How do I get that sense of community back into my life today? I remember a YouTube video by Charles Vogl, The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging. He opened his door and he created a place at his table to what came to be a vast circle of friends. One of whom later confided that, by doing so, Vogl actually saved his life. Again, I hear Dan Wilkins - “Who's at the table of community? Who gets invited to the table of community?” It’s time to open our doors and make a place for everyone. Then we can listen, be heard, and grow together. (For now, until we have a vaccine, let’s gather in our driveways and on our lawns at a distance and keep one another safe.) 

I end with just one more snippet of wisdom Dan shared in 2019. “Recipe for Community Soup: one part me, one part you, equal parts everybody else. Season to taste with equity, access, love, and respect.”

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