Director of Communications
Today, as we consider the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and begin the 30th anniversary year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we look back and remember an incredible history of activism in many communities, and look forward to continuing the intersectional movement to address racism, ableism and more, all which run deeply intertwined in our society.
For example, going into MLK Day weekend, just as NPR’s Joe Shapiro broke the story about Amtrak’s request that Access Living pay $25,000 to seat two wheelchair users, a conductor on an East Coast train asked Sherrilyn Ifill, a Black attorney who serves as President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to move her seat in an open-seating car because they wanted to “seat some other people.” Despite significant progress in building rights for marginalized communities, it’s obvious that there is still a lot of work to do to realize those rights.
The disability community as we know it today owes a great deal to the leadership of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement: for the example these leaders set and for the civil rights veterans who later turned their attention towards disability work. To a degree, today’s incredible work to ensure the empowerment of disability voters has its roots in the civil rights struggle to vote; disabled black and brown voters remain among those most at risk of being denied access to voting. Intentional efforts to see justice for all must be done in a way that considers all facets of a person’s life and community. Our movement has to answer the needs of people who belong to multiple marginalized communities.
We cannot do this work without realizing the power of all the people in our community, both in Chicago and around the world. We must welcome and support the leaders and storytellers who can help move us all forward. The work of Dr. King and others like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer reminds us that our humanity is not to be denied. Today, we see many visionary disabled leaders from a range of marginalized communities telling us where we need to go; our priority is to listen and to act to meet their needs.
Dr. King’s life reminds us all how important it is to have tough conversations about privilege and oppression, and to realize the power of people working together to make change. It is up to us all to build the movement.
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