In one way or another I have been a human rights activist for nearly all of my 54 years. I was raised in a civil rights family. Our minister marched with Dr. King. I can remember the Sunday service after Dr. King was assassinated when the reverend Bill Daniel took all of us to task for Dr. King’s murder. We all play a role in creating a society where things like this happen, he said. He was right.
In his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” He was right. He was right then and he is right now.
When we talk about justice, we are talking about freedom. Each is an appendage to the inalienable right of every human being to be who there are safely in the world around them.
And so it is with an allegiance to freedom and justice for all, along with an unflinching awareness that we are all threads in a single garment of destiny, that I try with all my might and heart to apply my voice to the fight for the right of all people to be who they are safely in the world around them. Safely doesn’t just mean physical, moral and spiritual safety. Safely also means social and cultural safety. To achieve these, equality is required. To achieve true equality, freedom is required. To achieve freedom, a seat at the table of social, political and cultural discourse is required.
For 13 years now I have worked primarily with people who have survived brain injuries. I have worked in both long term and community based settings. There have been times where I have found myself in a position of having to confront patterns of behavior and patterns of decision making that, intentional or not, deny survivors their right to have an equal say in the management of their own lives.
Over the years I’ve seen malicious patterns of oppression. I’ve seen the poison of dishonesty and the insidious tool of threat used as manipulation tactics. These threats are often linked to the person’s ability to keep the services needed to retain their level of independence in the community. Cruel? Absolutely. Illegal? Should be.
Dr. King said, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
I can tell you from personal experience that being one of the voices that demands freedom can take its toll. It can be hard and grueling and painful to endure. But I don’t mind. Yes, I get scared at times. Yes, I am at times deeply worried I will lose everything. But I will not retreat into silence when I am, in some instances, attacked on a very personal level by the forces of injustice.
Here’s the thing. I would be more scared were I to retreat into silence and tuck myself away in some corner of the world and there sit idly by as the forces of injustice had their way. Such a retreat would be tantamount to my enlisting in the forces of injustice. And that, I can tell you, would take a toll on me that I am not prepared to endure.