I recently told New York State Department of Health Officials they can trust me, and they can. I told them what I have told others. I will stand against anyone or anything that denies people their equal rights, and I will stand with anyone or anything that supports equal rights – for all people. It’s that simple.
In early 2008 I was pretty much tossed out of the Belvedere Brain Injury Program because I would not remain silent when I saw program participants denied their equal rights by the leadership of Belvedere’s substance abuse program. The owner of the program, John Mccooey said, in front of witnesses I might add, that while my financial relationship would not change, my relationship with Belvedere would change, meaning I had to leave. Mccooey continued to pay me for awhile short time later he said I’d told someone that he was paying me for my silence which is about as absurd as it gets given the reason I was tossed from the program in the first place was my very lack of silence. So, he used a lie as an excuse to stop paying me.
While I hear mixed reviews of Belvedere today, it is worth noting that Belvedere is the only brain injury waiver provider in the state that will not allow the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, founded by brain injury survivors and their loved ones, to meet with program participants. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Anyway, there I was, from weekly paycheck to no income at all. I’d been an independent contractor so unemployment was not an option. Given that I had not been working a full-time schedule because of my brain injury, I sought public assistance, received a rush of help from friends, began monthly trips to a food pantry, and went back on disability and my state’s TBI Waiver which, while it has its problems, is a blessing to nearly 3,000 people.
Back then some of the people who love me said things like, We know you care and we know you don’t like it when people are being denied their rights, but you’ve got to keep your mouth shut sometimes so you can keep your job, a roof over your head. I can’t. Not then. Not now. Not ever. Who am I to put my income over another person’s right to their equality? I look at the sacrifices made by others in the battle for civil rights and when all is said and done, losing a job or a home is not that high on the trauma scale, not when others have paid for their work with their lives.
Not long after the Belvedere blow, I met up with my friend Eric Mitchell. Eric and I worked together at Belvedere and had become close friends. I told him what happened with Belvedere and said, “At least I wasn’t assassinated.” Eric paused, said, “In a way you were,” and gave me a hug.
There are quite a few brain injury survivors along with their loved ones who trust me to stay loyal to them, to not fold when their equal rights are threatened, no matter the cost. I will not betray their trust. Their trust is one of life’s greatest gifts to me; the fact the above referenced coalition is now the largest survivor-led coalition in the state is testimony to this gift.
I was recently asked if, as a human rights advocate, I ever get scared. Yes, I do. All the time. But I agree with Nelson Mandela’s take on courage. He said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
So yes, the DOH and others can trust me. They can trust that I will always stand up for equal rights and stand against any force that seeks to deny equal rights.