I have been submitting to this column every month for more than 15 years, and this is the hardest column I have ever had to write.
When planning this column a few weeks ago, I had decided on a topic that was relatively lighthearted to try to balance out the intensity of the world around us. Then the murder of George Floyd occurred. Now, I cannot afford to be lighthearted.
As a representative of an organization dedicated to social justice for people with disabilities, I cannot afford to be silent in the face of oppression and violence. At Community Connections, we believe the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I recognize that the voice of disabilities you hear in this column each month comes from an able-bodied person, just as I recognize that I come to you now as a white woman speaking about issues of race. But isn’t that important? Black voices can’t be the only voices in the conversation about combating racism. People with disabilities can’t be the only ones talking about ableism. Those of us who have benefited from the current system have to be willing to address and dismantle it.
But how? What can we do from the rural and frontier counties of Southwest Colorado to dismantle a system of oppression that has been in place in America for centuries?
For an answer, I turn back to King and his six steps of nonviolent social change: information gathering, education, personal commitment, negotiation, direct action and reconciliation. Those who are participating in protests are engaging in Direct Action. Protesters have knowledge, commitment and understanding of where negotiation has failed.
Yet we all start somewhere. If we do not understand the extent of the problem or the options to solve it, we should begin with learning more. Once we have that understanding, we can educate those around us and make a personal commitment to support the change.
The reason for my struggle in writing this today is because I know that many readers already know how necessary it is to stand against oppression and violence toward black people. There are people far more articulate than I who are making that statement. And in 500 words, I doubt I will persuade or sufficiently educate anyone who does not already hold that view. It is too easy to sound trite and too easy to share empty words. But it is also too easy to say nothing.
As someone who cares very deeply for civil rights and justice for people with disabilities, I can just say that it matters for us to talk about racism. It matters that we question the deeply ingrained systems and biases that divide power unequally based solely on the color of our skin. Black Lives Matter.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.