Stepping off first was Damian Ellis, the Lead Marshal for the 2009 Parade. For weeks leading up to July 25, Damian’s enthusiasm for and anticipation of the parade was contagious. Almost every day, Damian, a member of Advanced Youth Leadership Power, would stop by Access Living to share his excitement. “I can’t wait for Disability Pride Day!,” he’d say. “I want to tell the world that we are a strong, vibrant and empowered community.”
For several years, the Parade, and people like Damian, have been doing just that. Founded in 2004 with the mission of “promot(ing) the belief in society that disability is a natural and beautiful part of human diversity in which people living with disabilities can take pride,” the Disability Pride Parade is a grass-roots effort, organized completely by people with disabilities. In its sixth year, the parade gains more support and attention each year, earning sponsorship not only from major disability organizations, but also from AT&T and the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee. Breaking previous records, more than 70 different groups participated in this year’s event. Following the parade, a Post Parade Program Celebration included entertainment from the Jesse White Tumblers, Peter Love, comedian Brett Eastburn, and blues musician Willie Williams.
Each year, the parade selects as Grand Marshal an individual or group from the community that has furthered the parade’s mission of breaking down barriers and instilling pride. This year’s Grand Marshal was disability activist and feminist Amber Smock. “Amber has become one of the brightest young emerging leaders in Disability activism,” said Janice Stashwick, one of the parade organizers. Amber is the Youth Team Leader at Access Living, co-coordinator for Chicago ADAPT and co-founder of Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA), a grassroots direct action group of women with disabilities and Deaf women.
The 2009 Disability Pride Parade was dedicated to the memory of advocate and parade organizer Dan Van Hecke, who passed away in December 2008. He had a heart attack on his way to a Parade planning meeting. Dan, who may be best known as the founder of the accessible taxi program in Chicago, handled the time-consuming and detail-oriented logistical tasks for the parade.
When the day was over, Damian beamed even brighter. Asked what he thought of the parade, he said, “It made me happy. I am proud to play a role in the Disability Pride Parade!”