Thursday, April 23, 2015

Turning Painful History into a Teachable Moment

(This is cross-posted at the "Who Needs Normalcy?" blog as well, available here.)

My six year old daughter came home with a book about Ruby Bridges today.

At first I was taken aback. How on Earth do you make any sense of segregation and hatred to a child who knows nothing of that life...without making them self-conscious, fearful, hurt, cynical, or bitter? It wasn't a conversation that I was exactly looking forward to having ever, though I knew it would one day be necessary. It certainly wasn't a topic I planned to explore at length with her at age six.  But life happened.

So she read the book (as did I). And I talked with her about Jim Crow, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of other topics. And of course, Ruby Bridges. It was heavy stuff. She listened intently. She asked questions. She became sad at times (as did I). But it was beneficial.

She asked if she could contact Ruby Bridges to let her know how she had impacted her. "If she's still alive." I told her I was pretty certain that Ruby Bridges was still alive as she was probably only in her early sixties. Through the wonder of the internet, I found Ms. Bridges' official website in a matter of seconds. She typed a message in the "Notes" of her iPad, and then she copied and pasted the text, emailing her through the website's contact form. With her permission, I am sharing the email (omitting a few identifying details). I hope it will be an meaningful to you to read the message as it is to me.

Photo credit: Jeff Alward/Oxford University Press

"Dear Ms. Ruby,

I like the story about you. My name is _______ and I am six and a half years old. I got a nonfiction book about you from my school. I was trying to find a book to read and I saw a book with a lot of white people holding signs up high. Their faces looked angry. And I saw a black girl at the bottom. I wanted to see what the book was about.

The girl was you. Six year old Ruby. If I were there I would want to be in your class. Not because we are both black people but because you are very brave. I was very sad that people were mean to you and to your family and to lots of black people. Your dad lost his job because he got fired when he wanted you to go to a good school. Your grandma and grandpa became homeless. I think you did a good thing helping bring black people into a whites only school and changing it to a school for everybody. 

I go to a school called ______ School for the Gifted and we have lots of people who are different at my school. We have people who look different and people who think in different ways. I like that. If everybody is the same, it is boring. 

Thank you for helping make things way better than it used to be a long time ago in 1960 when black people had to have old books and go to blacks only schools with old buildings with broken desks and bugs everywhere. If it was like that now I would be sad because I would miss seeing my friends very much if. I had to go to a blacks only school. You helped me a lot. 

I want you to know that I am brave too. I am Autistic and some people don't like it but I am happy. I like who I am.



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#JusticeForKayleb NOW

(This post is also published on the "Who Needs Normalcy?" blog here.)

Most people who know me know how passionate I am about things that I care about, especially human rights. It's personal. I advocate and I write and I take action because I deeply believe in the causes I champion. I believe that regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability status, nationality, socioeconomic level, HIV or Hepatitis serostatus, political affiliation etc. that at the core you are first and foremost a human being, and by virtue of that fact you deserve respect and to be treated with dignity. You deserve to have your rights upheld. You deserve access to opportunities. You deserve a voice and autonomy over your own life. You should matter.

That's the dream. But it isn't reality yet. That's why we all fight - increase awareness, to raise consciousness, to change hearts and minds, to obtain justice. It's hard. It's tiring.

It's necessary though.

I am feeling emotional and don't think I will be able to go into as much detail in the next part as I'd like. Please bear with me if I'm not writing at my best; this is hard for me. It is too close...too close. To think about it hurts. To write about it hurts.

It's necessary though.

There is an alarming trend in society where individuals with disabilities, especially people of color, get the "short end of the stick;" or in other words, face sub-optimal outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.Employment rates are lower. Home ownership rates are lower. Graduation rates (high school and college). The percentage of married/partnered adult is lower. Yet rates of poverty are higher, as are rates of homelessness; likelihood of physical, emotional, sexual, and/or financial abuse; mental health diagnoses; suicide; murder; and unpleasant run-ins with law enforcement. We don't do a very good job as a society of accommodating the needs of disabled people and providing critical supports for us to succeed. Moreover, covert disability discrimination (ableism) is rampant; people are frequently infantilicized/patronized; viewed as "broken" or "less than" and therefore viewed as objects of pity; or alternatively viewed as "inspirational heroes" (this phenomenon is known as inspiration porn). Even though we're really just people, we're never just "people." 

Kayleb Moon-Robison is a person. He is a disabled person (like myself and two of my children, Kayleb is on the autism spectrum). He is a black (or African American) person. He is a Christian person. He is a male presenting person. He is a young person.

He is a victim of injustice.

In a turn of events almost too upsetting to repeat (you can read about it in detail HERE), Kayleb kicked a trash can during an autistic meltdown at a new school and was charged by the campus police officer with a second degree misdemeanor of "disorderly conduct." A few weeks later, Kayleb lined up with his classmates instead of remaining back in the classroom segregated, waiting for them all to leave the class before being permitted by his teacher to also get in line. For this minor infraction of the rules (a rule, it should be noted, that only applied to Kayleb; no other student in the class had to abide by it) the campus officer arrived. Attempting to take Kayleb to the principal's office, he grabbed Kayleb. Kayleb, a small, bespectacled child, pushed the officer away to free himself. He was then thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and carted off to juvenile. Charged and brought to trial (this month) for "assaulting a police officer," mild-mannered Kaylen became, at the age of 11 years old, a pre-teen felon (merely awaiting June 2015 sentencing since the court has already determined that it has found facts "sufficient for guilt.") 

That's right. A pre-tee  felon.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Kayleb should have been afforded certain provisions and accommodations by his school district and by local law enforcement. He was not. And now this 6th grade child has to face life as a convicted felon before he's even old enough to drive. Not because he shot, stabbed, raped, or murdered anyone, but because he did not receive sufficient support for his disability. He is now being made to pay the ultimate price.

Unless we do something about it.

Kayleb could have been me. He could have been my son. Or your son. Or your neighbor. Or someone in your community. Whether or not you are on the autism spectrum it has to be obvious to you that something is drastically wrong. Kayleb is not the only child in his district, his state, or the country to whom this has happened. Sadly, the cases occur far too often, and little is done because few people are aware of the problem. Today, I want you to be aware.

11 year old 6th graders with disabilities who have not committed an egregious crime DO NOT deserve to have their lives ruined by becoming a convicted felon before their teen years. Kayleb deserves a chance. He has endured enough, and he doesn't deserve this. Neither do any of the other people whose names I don't know who have been similarly wronged. For some people, it is too late to help them right the wrongs they have faced. But it's not too late for us to help Kayleb.

Will you join in with the Autistic community in demanding #JusticeForKayleb?

We want the prosectution of Kayleb to STOP.
We want this removed from his record.
We want him to serve ZERO time in a juvenile facility.
We want him taken out of the alternative school that he has been forced into and returned to a less restrictive general education environment with adequate supports for his needs.
We want this nightmare to be over for Kayleb, his mom Stacey, and their family.
And we want no one to have to have this also happen to them.

I need you help. Lei Wiley-Mydske and I started a petition yesterday for Kayleb. It is taking off.  But more attention and more public support is needed. Not just from the autistic and autism communities; not just from disability community, not just from communities of color. We need help from everyone.

Will you help?

Will you oppose ableist and racial injustice? Will you sign and widely share the petition urging the Virginian governor to give us #JusticeForKayleb?

And will you spread the word about this on social media, helping to boost the #JusticeForKayleb hashtag?

I hope I can count on you. Thank you for your love and support. 

In solidarity,


Photo credit: #JusticeForKayleb FB page

More #JusticeForKayleb resources are linked below:

Center for Public Integrity Article

Post from Autistic Hoya

Statement from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Post from Intersected

The Grio article

Official #JusticeForKayleb Facebook page (created by his family)

"No More Injustice" Poem by Alex Forshaw

Time Magazine Article

Post from Black in the 'burg

Friday, April 10, 2015

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day #NYHAAD: Three years, three posts!

Today (April 10th) is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (or NYHAAD) in the US. National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day is an annual observance that takes place on April 10 to educate the public about the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people and to highlight the work young people are doing across the country to respond to the epidemic.This year marks the third annual observance of this day designed to highlight youth-related HIV issues. Prior to the creation of NYHAAD in 2013 by a group of youth who gathered at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, the closest thing to NYHAAD was Children's AIDS Day, which was celebrated in Texas in 2010 and 2011.

Photo credit: YouthAIDSDay dot org

Youth with HIV or at risk for HIV have unique characteristics. There are particular challenges that they face that increases their risk for contracting HIV and makes it harder for them to access resources. This is especially the case for youth of color, young MSM, and young women and transwomen.

Please take some time today to visit the official NYHAAD page for information about this day, and also take some time to visit the All In page (a similar global initiate to #EndAdolescentAIDS).

We are also pleased to share three awesome posts written by a positive youth in commemoration of post for each year that has NYHAAD existed. Please read them below!

1. "An Almost Broken Relationship" (about lack of HIV awareness), from HIVE Online (formerly BAPAC)

2. "Mina's Law: #NotYourInfection" (about fighting HIV stigma), from PWN-USA

3. "HIV Youth Summer Camps" (about social support for youth with HIV), from the Well Project