Monday we pay national tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and rightly so.
But as the nation reflects upon Dr. King’s message on this recognized Day of Service, far too many people still view King's dream as one involving only race, allowing them to more easily dismiss the day's significance.
King's ideals serve as powerful examples to all, including to me in my work as a writer, author, speaker and advocate on special needs issues. This timely human rights discussion, one of great magnitude and importance, has been given greater power, understanding and voice because of Dr. King's work.
I parented a child with cerebral palsy, a wheelchair user, for nearly thirteen years. Harsh judgment of Eric’s human value because of disability required me to advocate for his basic rights every day until Eric’s death in 2003 at age twelve. Yet, I am an educated white woman living in the suburbs, complete with a white picket fence.
Dr. King’s words have proved powerful motivators in my difficult walk. ‘I have a dream’ has many times fueled my quest for better life opportunities for my son and others. Mine has been a heartfelt journey filled with both enormous blessings and stinging rejection, along with stellar examples about how spirited leadership impacts human rights from Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy, another hero of mine.
For more than fifteen years, my tough parenting journey and heartbreaking loss have challenged me to use my voice, talent, and experiences to become a nationally recognized voice on the subject of special needs parenting issues. My son’s life and mine have been infinitely richer because of the gutsy example of Dr. King.
When my son died, I channeled my intense grief into penning a special needs parenting book to help other families navigate the rocky parenting waters a bit easier. I helped establish the annual Eric ‘RicStar’ Winter Music Therapy Camp at Michigan State University, which honors my son’s remarkable gift for music. RicStar’s Camp serves individuals of all ages with a wide range of special needs. We nurture individual ability and serve as an example of successful inclusion in the many communities we serve.
Like Dr. King, I believe strongly that ‘what impacts one, impacts all.’ Only a fine line of circumstance separates us.
Fifty-four million Americans have disabilities; 200 million people worldwide have intellectural disabilities (formerly know as mental retardation). Today, many of these individuals are still undersocialized, undereducated and undervalued. Many face inexcusable struggles familiar to other minorities, making Dr. King’s fire, passion and example critical to my on-going work, and to that of others working for much-needed societal change.
Dr. King's message holds meaning for each one of our lives. Millions of people living with the tough daily realities of special needs understand Dr. King's dream all too well. More than one has taken his/her important place at the forefront of a human rights movement designed to grant millions of children and adults the right to live out their life dreams, too That includes the ground-breaking work of visionaries Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Tim Shriver, and Christopher and Dana Reeve.
Dr. King fought for justice and equality for all. Through my passionate special needs work, I’m proud and honored in 2008 to be living out Dr. King’s dream.
His powerful lessons live on, as indeed they should.
The lessons belong to all.
For learn more about Dr. King's work and Monday's Day of Service, visit: www.thekingcenter.com or www.mlkday.org.
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations