Remembering the Uighurs on this Tisha B’Av, a Day of Mourning

Uighur genocide

Mihrigul Tursun, a young Uighur mother, says she was tortured and subjected to other brutal conditions in one of the “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang Province. Photo by D.A. Peterson, in the public domain. Source: https://share.america.gov/tale-of-torture-in-chinese-internment-camp-for-uighurs/

 

Tisha B’Av in Judaism is a day of mourning. Falling this year on July 30, the day commemorates the destruction both the Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians and the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans. In addition, the First Crusade, in which 10,000 Jews were killed during the first month along, officially began the Ninth of Av in 1096. Later, On Tisha B’Av, the Jews were expelled from England (1290), France (1306), and Spain (1492). In a diabolical propaganda move, the Nazis on July 23, 1942, ordered the remaining Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto deported to Treblinka. These included Janusz Korczak and some 200 orphans and staff. Andrzej Wajyda created a breathtaking memorial of this event in his film by the same name.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks this year reminds us that Jews never give up hope. We rebuild.

This year, however, another ethnic group faces persecution. The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people living in Xinjiang Province, in the northwestern part of China (East Turkistan). Most are Muslims. According to National Public Radio, the Uighurs number 11 million people; at least one million have been detained in 85 camps, so-called “re-education” centers, since 2017.

The Associated Press on July 29, 2020, reported that China is now seeking to lower Uighur births with forced IUDs and sterilization to a greater degree than previously thought. According to the article, China’s government is encouraging Han Chinese to settle in Xinjiang, to dilute the Uighur population. Many other Uighurs are in forced labor, including the fashion industry. A United Nations report states that China’s suppression of Uighurs meets its definition of genocide. Or, as Foreign Policy, terms it, “the world’s most technologically sophisticated genocide.” In October 2019, Agence France-Presse reported the Chinese government efforts to erase the history of the Uighurs extends to destroying Uighur burial grounds.

It is, therefore, fitting that John Oliver devoted his most recent episode of Last Week Tonight on the plight of the Uighurs.

On this Tisha B’Av, we remember.

UNICEF Gives Girls Around the World a Voice on COVID-19

UNICEF girls COVID-19

In many countries, girls like this teen from Niger are needed to help the family. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to make things even harder. This beautiful photo is by NigerTZai, via Wikimedia Commons

Though most children in the U.S. have been spared from the physical effects of COVID-19, the disease has been taking a tremendous toll on their mental health. Around the world, however, in many nations, children have suffered severely, especially girls.

UNICEF, on July 20, launched a five part series, Coping with COVID 19. “As their schools close and their families struggle to stay afloat, girls in nine countries grapple with social isolation and the threat of poverty and child marriage,” said the agency in a statement, To create the videos, UNICEF provided 16 girls in nine countries with cell phones. The girls themselves shot all the video footage, which “captures their own words, ideas,  and beliefs.” They are, as the trailer says, “coping with more than a pandemic.”

“I’m kind of laughing, but the truth is that I am really stressed out about this now,” says one teenager.

“Many people have lost their jobs as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says a young girl in Arabic.

“Many parents don’t have a job or money for school fees, so they have started planning to send their children to work,” says Sangamithra, 15, in India. “In [the] case of girls, they may plan to marry them off at an early age.”

Around the world, girls under the age of 18 make up some 1.1 billion people. In some countries, girls are not allowed to go to school. And in others where they are able, they are raped by a teacher. Or they face a forced marriage.

“If we are to solve problems like poverty and inequality, we need girls to be part of the solution,” says the narrator in one of the videos. “And we need to make sure they are empowered to use their voices.”

A girl from Bangladesh, speaks about how the COVID-19 crisis hit her country and family. Four teen girls – Bijita (India), Makaditia (Mali), Fikoh (Indonesia), and Trisha, recount how early on the virus once seemed so far away, something they would not have to worry about. It was not long, however, until people at home became frightened – as Madhu (Nepal) recounts. Imoro (Ghana) reports how people in her town were told about the need for hand washing, but there was often no soap to be had. Zulfa (Indonesia) and Adiaratou (Mali) mention the need to wear masks.  “All around the world, the news has been filled with stories about the virus, but there are some stories that have not been told, from voices that need to be heard” says the narrator.

 

Episode 1: A Pandemic Through a Girl’s Eyes

The first video, Trisha, Sangamithra,  tells her story.

Sangamithra, a 15-year-old from India, introduces us to her family and home. It’s very modest, but she is very happy to be there. However, everyone wonders when there will be a vaccine and she – like so many children – will be able to go to school again and see her friends. For now, she learns through Zoom. “I badly miss my school,” she says. Other parents do not have the money for school fees. For them, Sangamithra says, they have to work. And in the case of girls, parents “plan to marry them off at an early age.”

In Niger, Esta, 15, explains how she does household chores and tends to the family’s livestock. In her country, 90 percent of children live in poverty. And “the added pressures of COVID-19 mean that life may get even tougher in the months to come.” Some believe the disease does not exist. Esta knows better.” She is aware that people have died or are battling for their lives. Like her, others in her village are very afraid. Life has changed. She used to love playing with her friends, but now she does not go out. School has been closed. With seven people in her home, people have arguments.

Like Esta, Madhu a 13-year-old from Nepal, has to stay at home… with 24 other people. Girls her age are are not allowed to study at school. So parents have to pay to send their children to schools, private for sons and public for daughters. Even then, sometimes Madhu has to stay home to tend to what needs to be done, including working in the fields and tending to the cattle.

Even worse, the girls say, is early and forced marriage. Others, Makaditia says, are raped. In Bangladesh, according to Trisha, and Mali, according to Adiaratou these girls can be as young as 15 or 16. In Chad, 30 percent of girls like Laetitia (who is in a polygamous family) are married by the time they turn 15. Many girls suffer from anemia and menstruation can be painful, Bijita reports. Girls who are harassed sexually are often unable to continue their education.

The film asks, “But what if we could use this moment as a reset switch, a chance to reassess the situation, a chance to re-imagine a better future for everyone?”

“My hope for the future,” says Laetitia, “is helping street children, child herdsmen, and orphans.”

Future Episodes

Additional episodes are planned for the next four weeks:

  • Episode 2: Education through a girl’s eyes, July 31, 2020
  • Episode 3: Relationships through a girl’s eyes, August 7, 2020
  • Episode 4: Inequality through a girl’s eyes, August 14, 2020
  • Episode 5: The future through a girl’s eyes, August 21, 2020

ADA: Three Decades of Accessibility as Law

ADA 30

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 into law. Accompanying him are disability rights activist Justin Dart (wearing the hat) and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

 

It was 56 ago. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. For students and other people with disabilities, it nine years later, after protests led by Judy Heumann, that this legislation to be amended later with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. But for accessibility to be enshrined in the law of the land, it would take another 26 years and the protests of disability rights activists, the Capitol Crawl (in March 1990). After considerable debated in Congress, President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, with bipartisan support. “Let the shameful wall of exclusion to come down,” said Mr. Bush. The title sheet of the document read “An Act: To establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.” ADA “…prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.” Specifically, ADA:

  • Forbids discrimination in employment on the basis of any disability
  • Requires full access to government facilities and services, including public transportation
  • Full access to all places of public accommodation, including commercial establishments
  • The ability to use all forms of telecommunications technology.

In addition, ADA establishes standards on accessibility to any “place of public accommodation.”

In 1999, ADA became stronger after a Supreme Court case, Olmstead v. L.C., ruled that people with mental illness have a disability. Often known simply as “Olmstead,” the law states that people with cognitive disabilities have the right to live in least-restrictive setting, often community residences, rather than state-mandated institutions.

For this, the 30th anniversary of ADA, the New York Times published an excellent series, “The ADA at 30: Beyond the Law’s Promise.” The articles are well worth reading. Furthermore, the advocacy group RespectAbility held its “ADA 30 Summit: Education and Skills for a Better Future.” Earlier this summer marked the publication of the Disability Visibility anthology, featuring the writings of many people with a disability; the organization produced an ADA30 podcast, with a bonus.

Deafblind self-activist Haben Girma in her memoir recounted how in 2015 she litigated in the U.S. District Court for Vermont for ADA to include online businesses as places of public accommodation.

With films such as Crip Camp, the evolution of depicting disability positively continues. In the shadow of all the accolades, the work continues.

So, there has much to celebrate. In 2000 and 2001, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History hosted an interactive exhibit, “The Disability Rights Movement.” The show was a testimony to the power of civil protest to raise awareness, the right of self-determination and autonomy. The exhibit also documented activism and advocacy among parents, how assistive technology in communication, mobility provides full access to events and places of everyday life, how children with disabilities have been treated over the years, and how ADA set out to guarantee the rights for which disability self-advocates have been fighting. For 2020, Smithsonian produced ADA Past, Present, and Future, through the Lens of the Coronavirus.” 

Yet, according to a recent article in Forbes, it is people with disabilities who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “A cloud hanging over any celebrating, say Former Gov. Tom Ridge and Ted Kennedy Jr., in a recent editorial. They cite U.S. Department of Labor statistics, that nearly 1 million people with disabilities in the U.S. lost their jobs during the pandemic. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting on behalf nursing home patients and group home residents, who represent nearly 50 percent of deaths from COVID-19, despite their making up only 1 percent of the population.

 

A Brief History of Accessibility

Smithsonian recently published an interesting article, “Did the Ancient Greeks Design Temples With Accessibility in Mind?” Some scholars think that the ramps found at some temples were to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. In fact, writers as far back as Homer mentioned Hephaistos, the Greek god with a limp. The ancient Greeks were ahead of their times in many ways. Perhaps this is one other way?

Let’s return to the United States. Over the first 150 years of the country’s history, life for most people with disabilities was fraught with challenges, if not outright misery. Most people with cognitive disabilities were consigned to state institutions for their entire lives. In 1887, a courageous and pioneering investigative journalist, Nelly Bly, wrote Ten Days in a Mad-House. The courageous reporter laid bare the horrors of these asylums. We learned that people like Helen Keller were the very much exception! Twelve years later, in 1899, Elizabeth Farrell left her comfortable life in Utica, New York, to travel to the slums in New York’s Lower East Side. There, she established the Henry Street School, teaching children with severe disabilities practical skills; her accomplishments laid the foundations of the laws that today benefit students with disabilities.

Working is essential to the autonomy of all people, including those with disabilities. Disability rights in employment law go back to 1920. In that year, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Fess Act to provide for World War I veterans who became disabled in action. The early 20th Century, however, was when eugenics was accepted science. Forced sterilization prevented “feebleminded, insane, depressed, mentally handicapped, and epileptic people” from having children. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 called for sheltered workshops for all people with disabilities, not just the blind.

Yet, there was still a need for a law offering access to all people with disabilities to all aspects of life. Former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin set out to correct that when he authored ADA. More than two-thirds of American adults with disabilities are still “striving to work,” according to a national employment survey. Disability advocates are trying to change that, in their effort to fulfill the promise of ADA. And that was before the COVID-19 outbreak, which disproportionately affected workers with disabilities.

Through civil rights legislation, awareness, and self-advocacy, there has been considerable effort in ensuring that society respects the needs and rights of all citizens with disability. This progress will continue.

 

Also check:

National Organization on Disability 

American Association of People with Disabilities 

Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)

Disibility Visibility Project

 

#DisabilityRights

#ADA30

Working Together, We Can Lift One Another Up

Bar_Headed Geese Rodrick rajive lal

In their vee formation, geese actually help one another. Photo by Rodrick Rajive Lal, via Wikimedia Commons

 

This week, two writers expressed a hope that people with differing views will come together, work together and, in the process, lift everyone up. The two voices are Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children’s Defense Fund, and David Brooks, the conservative commentator of the New York Times. Both individuals command respect for their wisdom.

 

Marian Wright Edelman

In her Child Watch column, Marian Wright Edelman ponders on “Lessons from Geese: Standing By Each Other in Difficult Times.” So what can a flock of birds teach us? Apparently, quite a bit:

  • By flying in formation, the flapping of their wings provides the whole flock has a common direction, saving each individual considerable time overall.
  • A single goose flying out of formation quickly learns to return to the group with its mutual aid.
  • When the lead bird tires, it goes to the back of the vee, and another takes the lead; each one relying on what the others provide.
  • Their honking encourages each individual to work with the group.
  • If one member of the flock leaves, two others tend to that bird until it rejoins the group or dies.

“If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.” Dr. Edelman writes.

 

David Brooks

A remarkable op ed piece by David Brooks has had me thinking a lot.  His theme is exclusion and ways people can come together. “The oldest and vastest was the exclusion of people of color from the commanding institutions of our culture,” he writes. “Like other realms, American intellectual life has been marked by a series of exclusions. Not everyone will agree with Brooks’s assessment of intellectual exclusion, but he bears hearing out, as this, he says, “has been terrible for America, poisoning both the right and the left.”

To make matters worse, he cites Sarah Palin and Donald Trump , who he says reintroduced anti-intellectualism into the American right. And the left, he writes, has engaged in “intellectual segregation.” This has had three effects:

  • Insularity, in which many liberals have found themselves “blindsided”
  • Fragility, where when people “make politics the core of … religious identity,” when “you shield yourself from heresy.”
  • Conformity, to “affirm the self-esteem of the group.”

Citing a poll for the Cato Institute, Brooks reports that 62 percent of Americans say “they are afraid to share things they believe, according to a poll for the Cato Institute. This is in contrast to people who lean sharply left or right.

In the end, Brooks expresses hope that people will learn to listen to one another and not be judgmental toward those with whom they disagree.

As I have been doing in trying to be an anti-racist, Brooks has reminded me that I can still do a better job in identifying and confronting my own biases. In the end, I hope to lift others in my community up.

 

 

 

A Beautiful Film Reflects on a Beautiful Life

A Beautiful Film Reflects on a Beautiful Life

Korczak and Child

 

Korczak is a 1990 Polish film that chronicles the life of Janusz Korczak. Directed by one of Poland’s foremost directors. This film has garnered the critical acclaim it deserves, most notably The New York Times, the LA Times, a prominent professor at the University of Oklahoma, among many, many others. Andrzej Wajda was born in 1926, in Suwalki. His father, Jakub, was a victim of the Katyn massacre in 1940, the subject of his 2007 film of the same name.  In 1942, he joined the Home Army (Armia Krajova), the Polish resistance, of which Irena Sendler was also a part. After the War, he studied painting at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, before enrolling in the Lodz Film School. The 1970s was a lucrative time for Wajda, and his 1981 film, Man of Iron, told of a wedding during the Solidarity movement. Andrzej Wajda passed away in October 2016, in Warsaw. The main cover photo for the film has become an iconic representation for Korczak, so much so, that an Italian artist recently interpreted this a large public mural.

For me, it was a breathtaking experience to see Janusz Korczak come to life!

Korczak Wajda film review

This is a French movie poster for the Wajda film Korczak.

Filmed in black-and-white, the historic film opens with Old Doctor reassuring parents in his radio show of the same name. “Some prefer cards; others prefer women. Some swear by race horses. Me? I love children. It’s not a sacrifice in the least. I do it not for them, but for me…. Do not believe those declarations about sacrifices. They’re false and misleading.”

Early in the film, Korczak speaks about The Little Review, a newspaper he created for children and edited by children. At this point, Korczak learns that all broadcasts will need to be suspended. This event sets the tone of anti-Semitism in Poland, something Wajda seeks to explore and document. He says was a mistake to broadcast under Old Doctor, not Goldszmit, not Korczak. ”It’s not me, not a Jew, just an old doctor,” he says. Furthermore, the director of the radio station demands Korcak not tell the truth, or there will be protests. Korczak refuses, which also establishes the theme of standing up for one’s beliefs, for which Korczak himself will “ultimately pay the ultimate price.”

The next scene is Madame Stefa, Korczak’s assistant, returning from Ein Harod, a kibbutz in what was to become Israel. She says she had to; war is inevitable. Korczak says he has been through three wars. One of Korczak’s most memorable quotes here is, “War is inevitable. But is it the worst thing? I’ve seen three wars. But the worst thing I’ve seen is a drunken man beating a defenseless child.” The movie plot then moves very quickly to the September 1939, Nazi invasion of Poland – Great Synagogue on fire (the buiding actually blown up in May 1943). He’s wearing his old Polish officer’s uniform. He refuses to take it off. One year later, public announcement of the forming of the Warsaw Ghetto.

And now we’re in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto.

Korczak declares himself a Jew at Gestapo headquarters in the Ghetto, demanding the return of the potatoes that had been stolen. When the Gestapo agents yell at Korczak for not an armband with the Star of David, Korcak has a ready reply: “There are human laws and there are divine laws.” Throughout the rest of the film, one notices that Korczak does not wear the mandated armband, as he did in real life. Maryna Falska, a Polish child advocate who Korczak helped found the orphanage Nasz Dom, takes Pola, one of the orphans. (Pola, as we learn later, is at an advantage, as she does not “look Jewish.”)  She says she can get Korczak out of the Ghetto. And she tells Pola to take off her armband. This is part of the films struggle of Pole versus Jew.

So Korczak ends up in Warsaw’s dreaded Pawiak prison. There, Korczak reassures an inmate that he will live to see the end of the war. And at the end of the War, Poles will cease to persecute their Jewish brethren.

Released, Korczak returns to the orphanage. (It should be noted that the film skips over the first Ghetto orpahage, at Chłodna 33, and goes directly to the second location, Sienna 16.) Right away, the good doctor notices that Pola is not there. Yet, even the Nazis “are ruthless, but surely they will spare the children,” Korczak says. And even if the Nazis go after the children, “we’ll be with them.” Stefa reminds Korczak that Maryna and other friends could help him hide on the Aryan side. Replies Korczak, “To even think I would abandon you… “ Here, Stefa, wonders aloud “What will become of them?”

Shlomo Nadel My Life as a Child of Janusz Korczak

This memoir from one of Korczak’s orphans was published with the assistance of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada.

Korczak takes in a boy, Shlomo, from his dying mother. Back at the orphanage, Korczak assigns an older boy, Joseph, to show him around. Looking out a window, Shlomo sees a Nazi guard and says that if he had a gun, he would shoot him. Joseph explains that he’s only obeying orders. He may be a teacher or a gardener. Viewers who have read Korczak’s Ghetto Diary will recognize these sentiments of the doctor himself. At that point, Wajda takes both boys back in time, in a flashback to the oraignal orphanage at Krochmalna. Joseph explains to Shlomo how Korczak’s children’s court. He recounts the court having had judged the doctor once, something that actually did happen. In addition, “this” Shlomo was a real person, Shlomo Nadel, who decades later told his story, now published by the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada.

One of the most heartbreaking moments is when Shlomo sees his dead mother at the morgue. Later, as Korczak comforts him, Shlomo asks why they had to take her away. Even more heartbreaking is when we learn from Shlomo that his mother’s clothes had been stripped and taken away… that his mother had been buried naked.

Ewa, a pretty Polish blonde orphan from Nasz Dom, breaks up with Joseph. Joseph tells Stefa, “I don’t want to be a Jew anymore.” Later, he tells Korczak he wants to die. “Death is easy,” replies Korczak. “and life is terribly difficult.” That leads to Joseph to ask Korczak whether children have the right to die. It is this moment that Wajda that affirms Korczak’s famous stated belief (and often misinterpreted) of a child’s right to die. And they do so with more dignity than adults. When Joseph leaves, we hear Korczak’s thoughts of his own childhood, as he recorded them in his Ghetto Diary about the death of his pet canary. As the canary was a Jew, he would go straight to hell.

The next scene is of the children practicing for a play, The Post Office, by Rabindranath Tagore, which tells about a boy who faces death with courage. The orphans performed the piece less than two weeks before they would be led to Treblinka; yet, the scene occurs only two-thirds of the way in the film! Korczak explains to the audience – who can bear no more – that he chose the play “to familiarize the children with death.”

The film, though, ends on a hopeful, happy note, but this account is entirely fictional. For that, Andrzej Wajda was criticized severely. Individual opinions here will vary; that is for each viewer to decide.

By Finding the Helpers, a Parkland Parent Becomes a Helper

Fred Guttenberg Find the Helpers

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was gunned down in Parkland, on July 17 announced the publication of his book, on trying to make sense of such a tragic loss.

Fred Guttenberg, lost his beloved daughter Jaime in the 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida. On Friday, July 17, Guttenberg announced on Twitter that he wrote Find the Helpers on how he has found meaning in this tragedy, channeling his grief to social action to help others.

“What readers will learn from me in this book is how I was able to move forward. This book is my story of how I was able to move forward from the worst moment in my life because of the amazing people who were a part of my life or became a part of my life,” he said in his announcement.

With a nod to “the good neighbor,” Fred Rogers, Guttenberg tells of the helpers in his life. For many, he has become a helper himself, in person, on Twitter, and through Orange Ribbons for Jaime.

“Good things happen to good people at the hands of other good people─and the world is filled with them,” reads the editorial copy. He acknowledges the kindness of former Vice President Joe Biden, “who spent time talking to him about finding mission and purpose in learning to grieve.”

The release of this book is set for September 15, 2020. Even more, by ordering through Indiebound / Bookshop.org, I was able to support an independent Black-owned bookstore in the process.

 

An Italian Street Artist Commemorates Korczak

Korczak Mural

A street art mural on the side of a building depicts Janusz Korczak with one the children from his orphanage. The scene is inspired by the movie poster for the 1990 film Korczak, taking place in the Warsaw Ghetto.

 

The following is by Jerry Nussbaum, President of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada. I reproduce it here with his permission. The photos are all from Ache77, an artist from Florence, Italy.

An extraordinary, not just in its size, a mural by Ache77. It commemorates Dr. Janusz Korczak and is based on the 1990 Andrzej Wajda’s movie Korczak. It was painted on a school in Florence. Here is some information provided by the author.

ACHE77

“Pass me the scalpel, I gotta cut.”

We’re not talking about a surgeon here, nor an assassin. We’re talking about a street artist.

Since 2007, Ache77 has made of stencil art his main weapon; he engraves paper and cardboard to create normographic masks, through which the drawings come up by spraying color over them. The artworks are then created using one or more stencils and diversifying the colors.

Ache77 graduated in sculpture with a thesis on “guerrilla sculpturing,” i.e. non-commissioned public installations. He creates portraits which have the ability, through the intensity of their gazes, to engage with the people who distractedly meet them.

The figures he makes combine the use of a non-verbal language with a great attention to detail. His artworks can be randomly met in the streets, in art galleries or in contemporary art museums.

In 2016, in Florence, together with other artists and cultural producers, he opened the first urban art gallery in Tuscany which, besides being a meeting point for creative minds, aims to provide information and education on street art.

A very noteworthy organization, 3GNY, which brings together third-generation Holocaust survivors, will be hosting an online discussion of Wajda’s film later in July 2020. Watch this space for more information.

The following photos depict Ache77 at work:

 

Ache77 Korczak mural 2020

Ache77 mural 2020 being painted 02

Ache77 Korczak mural 2020

Ache77 Korczak mural 2020

Ache77 Korczak mural 2020

Ache77 Korczak mural 2020

 

Independence… Slavery… Exhaustion… Hope

Frederick_Douglass

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

This year, Independence Day is being observed at a time we have seen protests and calls for systemic reforms, across the U.S. and around the world. N.P.R. published this remarkable short film, in which five young descendants of Frederick Douglass read and respond to excerpts of one of famous speeches, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Mr. Douglass and his descendants ask that everyone to consider America’s long history of unequal rights among Black Americans.

 

“This is the 4th of July,” says Haley Rose Watson. “It is the birthday of your national independence and of your political freedom.”

“Oppression makes a wise man mad,” Isidore Dharma Douglass Skinner continues, as he recites the speech. “Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment.”

“With brave men, there is always a remedy for oppression,” adds Zoë Douglass Skinner. “They succeeded, and today you reap the fruits of their success,” continues Isidore.

But, these descendants continue with Douglass’s wise words. “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mineYou may rejoice, I must mourn.”

“We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

Yet, “I do not despair of this country.”

. . .

“It is extremely relevant, especially with today’s protests,” says Isidore.

“There are certain tactics you need to use to get people to really hear your voice,” adds Haley.

“I know a lot of people are now are saying that it’s not as bad as it could be,” says Alexa Anne Watson.

“While the Fourth of July does not mean the same to me as it does to others, I wouldn’t say that it has no meaning,” cautions Zoë. “But I would say that it’s not the time when I gained my freedom.”

Though Frederick Douglass still had a lot hope, “I’m getting to the point in my life, where I’m only 20 years old and exhausted,” says Douglass, expressing his concern as to whether we will ever get to the point for freedom among Black Americans. And yet, “…I think that there is hope, and I think it’s important that we celebrate Black joy and Black life, and we remember that change is possible. Change is probable. And that there’s hope,” says Isidore.

. . .

This piece was inspired by This Is Whitman, Alabama, a project by Jennifer Crandall that re-imagines life in the South today, as envisioned by Walt Whitman in his poem “Song of Myself.”

. . .

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Yale recently acquired a collection of items of the Frederick Douglass, includes “rarely seen family scrapbooks that offer a window onto his complicated private life.”

 

The Voice of the Disability Community

Disability Visibility anthology announcement

The Disability Visibility Project has announced the publication of a valuable new anthology of writing by prominent people in the disability advocacy and self-advocacy communities.

 

Fellow blogger Alice Wong (also on WordPress), creator of the Disability Visibility project, has announced the long-awaited publication of her anthology, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the 21st Century. In her announcement, she has included forthcoming online book events.

The anthology comprises four parts:

  • Being
  • Becoming
  • Doing
  • Connecting.

The anthology embraces the story-telling tradition, but all from the multiple perspectives of people with a wide range of disabilities. Famous authors include Haben Girma (whose memoir I reviewed earlier) and Maysoon Zayid. In her introduction, Ms. Wong tells of how she grew up seeing very few images portraying people with disabilities going about their everyday lives. She asked herself how her worldview would have been different “if I had seen someone like me as a glamorous, confident adult.” She adds, “As I grew older, discovering a community of disabled people and learning our stories gave me a sense of what is possible.” With that, Ms. Wong began to collect and save stories that were meaningful to her. She connected with StoryCorps and created the Disability Visibility Project to preserve these stories, archiving them at the Library of Congress.

Non-disabled readers will learn many aspects of living with a disability—and support these worthwhile authors in the process.

Disability Visibility is available in both print and e-book formats.