If you yell you will be heard.....

root - Posted on 01 January 2000

Breaking the silence on race and disability

by JJ Colagrande/PoorNewsNetwork

It is Feb. 16 2002 and a heavy silence lingers in the air of the auditorium of the SF public library. It is a huge room filled with hundreds of seats and the weight of the silence is heavy because the room is almost empty; however, the silence is not tense, just hollow, as it waits for a life and a voice that would soon consume it.

I sit alone in the scarcly filled meeting room waiting for the conference on race and disability to begin and I start to dream. I dream about being a track and field star. Back in the day I used to run track. In my dream I’m jetting down a track, it is the track that surrounded the football field of my old junior high school in New York, the same track where I used to always lose every race I competed in. I was one of the only white boys in a class dominated by African-Americans and it was hard for me to catch up with some of the track stars at my school cause they were fast. In my dream I’m in a race and I’m running as fast as I can. In my dream I’m fueled with desire, loaded with determination, and I’m challenging every obstacle in my course. I’m leaping every hurdle, jumping as high and far as I can, and I’m about to cross the finish line victorious but I wake up before I win.

The silence of the auditorium is starting to make me uncomfortable. The conference was suppossed to start fifteen minutes ago. I look around and notice Samuel Irving sitting alone in the front row. He is a dark chocalate warrior poet, humble, calm, strong like a bomb. He has multiple scilrosis and is legally blind. He sits alone just as I do.

As an able white man I actually feel self-conscious in a room filled with disabled people of color. I feel different and I don’t like the feeling at all. I know I’m not different but I can’t help feeling that I am. I wonder how I can overcome my self-consciousness as I meditate on the uncomfortable silence in the room.

The conference at the library begins when Leroy Moore, the last minute substitute host of the event, strolls up to the microphone and gives the hollowed ghost of silence a soul. He fills the quiet air with a voice. He announces, "I have stories to tell and I won’t shut up."

Samuel Irving is soon introduced to the microphone and he steps up to recite a couple of poems. From his poem entitled Headway he said something that caused my self consciousness to evaporate like dew when the sun breaks through from the clouds. He recited "my structure is what you don’t see when you look at me."


Word up, Samuel.

The conference continues and Leroy introduces a wide variety of poets, disabled activists, and advocates of disability rights. I begin to hear these diverse voices, african- american, latino, asian, all within this community, all educated and eloquent, and I wonder why they are not being heard.

I think back to when I was a kid and how frustrated I was when adults would not take me seriously. It was like my teachers or parents did not listen to me. Like they didn’t talk to me. Sure they talked about me or through me or around me but never TO me. I had a voice, just like all those voices that filled the library hall with life, so why exactly wouldn’t anybody listen?

The conference at the public library was designed to help get a serious voice heard. Organized by the Disability Advocates of Minorties Organization, the conference presented the Breaking the Silence and Organize Campaign. The BSOC is a platform for disabled people of color. The main goal of BSOC is to build friendships and leaders through networking. The BSOC also strives to display the culture, artistic talents, and history of disabled people of color while advocating legal rights, services, and bringing to light issues that touch the disabled people community in San Francisco.

The BSOC was born because there is no platform where disabled people of color can come together to express themselves, feel empowered. It is a question of empowerment so that the disabled community can use their own abilities to facilitate change. The BSOC wants to increase public awareness about issues that face them. One such issue is unemployment. Disabled minorities have the highest unemployment rate every year.

I sit comfortably in my chair in the last row of the scarcley filled auditorium, even though I know things are crazy, hard, and just ill sometimes I’m at ease, and I listen.

If you whisper you may not be heard.

If you speak you still may not be heard.

If you yell you will be heard.

But will people listen?

At the end of an ispirational conference, Leroy Moore, when commenting on his desire to get the BSOC’s voice heard, says, "next year we want this auditorium full."

I have no trouble believing him.


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