Recently, I had posted on Facebook that I was experiencing writer’s block. That was probably closer than half right. I was experiencing a lack of ideas, which I guess is the definition of writer’s block. But I think I had an idea that was too intimidating to write down. If you follow my Facebook, you know that I read a whole lot of books.
Recently, for example, I read a Pulitzer Prize winner biography of Martin Luther King called “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.” It’s a very long book compared to what I have been reading, but I loved it. The book does a great job of humanizing Dr. King in ways that some biographies and popular culture don’t.
As I was reading, I found myself identifying with Dr. King more than I have in the past. While I was reading this book, I was taking the first steps along with esteemed colleagues to found a new disability rights group for self-advocates in North Carolina called The North Carolina Empowerment Network. It was fascinating to me to realize that Martin Luther King Jr and his colleagues had similar experiences getting started.
It’s challenging to get a group together and off the ground. One reason I’ve not been writing as much is I’ve been meeting every other day on the phone with a group of extraordinary self-advocates which I have the honor of working with. The idea of NCEN is a few years old but is a tangible thing now. We have several communities established. We have an established meeting schedule, and after several discussions, we have a logo. The reason why it took so long is to some audiences; it’s a controversial image. It’s a blue closed fist, with the accessibility symbol on the wrist. Some people who have viewed the image equate it with the Black Panthers, an aggressive tactic which might not be the best for an inclusive group like ours.
Our critics have a point. That’s why I’m proud of the compromise. We came up with. We’re going to keep the logo as it is right now but continue to engage other self-advocates to get their feedback and impressions. If necessary, we will rebrand ourselves. I like the strength in unity shown in the image. I recognize the Black Panthers were controversial for good reasons. I also acknowledge that they were historically important to the disability rights movement.
In 1977, there was a significant sit-in supporting the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Several administrations had dragged their feet because it contained Section 504, the first civil rights law protecting people with disabilities. The sit-in lasted almost a month and eventually succeeded. It is the most extended sit in U.S. history. But the part that’s hard for some people to acknowledge is that the sit-in probably wouldn’t have succeeded without the help of the Black Panthers. They brought food to the activists because one of their members had a disability and was participating. So, I am okay with the acknowledging the history with our logo.
Martin Luther King also got in trouble with names of some of his projects. One of them was called the Gandhi Society, and some Christian groups had a big problem with that because Gandhi wasn’t Christian. It reassured me to realize that King had blowback similar to what we experienced.
There is one event in Martin Luther King’s life that the book keeps going back to. King had a vision one night in Montgomery, in his kitchen after an attempted bombing. He was struggling with the idea of whether to continue with the Montgomery bus boycott. According to King, he had a profound religious experience and came away with the idea that God would be with him whatever came of the Civil Rights Movement. King decided to continue. My mother has always said I was going to do something special. I know a lot of parents say that about their kids. But I do seem to be blessed. I tend to wind up in leadership positions around disability rights, starting when I was at a young age, so I can relate to King’s experience.
Another overarching argument in the book is that the Civil Rights Movement shaped Dr. King, not the other way around. This observation I can relate to also. In many ways, I feel like my life has prepared me to lead a group like NCEN. As mentioned earlier, I ‘ve talked to many groups of people since I was very young. I studied the history of the Disability Rights movement in college. I took several classes on leadership during school also. I sit on many vital boards in this state. I have a good knowledge and good relationships with the other leaders in the Disability Rights movement in North Carolina. That’s why I’m so excited to be the founding chairman of the NCEN. Stay tuned for future activities.
Our first major public event will be in March. Wish us luck. We have much to do, and I’m thankful for those like Dr. King, who demonstrated that everyone could do their part to improve their world, as long as they’re willing to work hard and do so collaboratively with others.
- Posted by Bryan Dooley
- On March 16, 2018
- 0 Comments