People with disabilities are their own best advocates

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Photos by Cynthia Price
 

by Cynthia Price

 

If there was one message that came through loud and clear at last Saturday’s Disability Pride Day, it is that people with disabilities are best suited to shape their own lives.


Over and over, members of the Disability Justice League and others made the point verbally, but what really brought it home were the actions on view from members who have taken their lives into their own hands.


This has apparently not escaped the notice of the candidates in the greater Muskegon area, who came out in substantial numbers to the Humunity Center at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church where the event was held.


After State Rep. Terry Sabo presented a certificate of recognition from the Michigan legislature, Michigan House candidate Tanya Cabala (who would represent a different district from Sabo’s) spoke briefly in support of rights for people with disabilities. She was followed by Mary Valentine, the former state representative, who spoke on behalf  of gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer. Valentine was introduced by Whitmer’s regional representative Tyjuan Thirdgill, who has been featured in these pages before.


Later, Muskegon City Commissioner Ken Johnson and Congressional candidate Dr. Rob Davidson addressed the group.


There was another speaker, Frank Minor, who if he is not running for office should. The blind gentleman gave a rousing speech telling of his nearly giving in to the despair and depression he experienced as the result of facing prejudice and a lack of opportunity. “I remember the moment I had to inspire myself,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘What do I need to do?’ The answer was: believe that I can achieve my goals and excel on my own.”


He continued by saying that there is a need for people with disabilities to engage in political advocacy and hold the people in power accountable. “What good is an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] if the people will not exercise their rights? As people with disabilities, we must no longer remain silent.”


He closed with the words of Martin Luther King, “As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free.”


That also seems to be the attitude of Darma Canter, a fierce advocate for many years. She spent time in a variety of social work positions and retired from Community Mental Health. (She also had Mike’s Bread, the well-loved bakery, with her husband.)


Her daughter Eleanor Canter works for the National Council on Independent Living and served as emcee of Saturday’ s event.


Darma Canter gave an award to Marty Ferriby, the Director of Hackley Public Library, to recognize the excellence of accessibility at the library. Ferriby said that when the decision was made to renovate, everyone insisted that the library be made accessible, but it took a good long time to figure out how. Just as they had the new entrance in the works, the City of Muskegon announced that it was going to lower the level of the street.


However, the project was  ultimately successful because Canter observed, “I’m not hesitant about the entrance at all anymore.”


She also led the group of about 50 people in attendance in chanting, “My Voice My Vote” to reinforce the necessity of knowing about candidates and voting for the right ones.


There were many other speakers, as well as a musician.


The event sponsor, Disability Justice League, was formerly Disability Network West Michigan, and before that the Disability Connection. Over the years, people with disabilities have taken greater and greater roles in the organization, so that it is now primarily led by members of the community.


The Humunity Center exists to “provide acceptance and support in helping all individuals...  overcome obstacles that prevent emotional wellness.” It offers support groups for people with substance abuse problems of all types, the LGBT community, people facing grief or depression, and those who have disabilities.

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