Note to the reader:
On June 5 the Brain Injury Association of New York was kind enough to give me this year’s Ted Weiss Advocacy Award. It is the second time they have given me this award and I am deeply grateful. A United States congressman from 1977 to 1992, Congressman Wiess was an advocate, not just for his constituents, but for all people. He was particularly fierce in the arena of healthcare, not blinking when taking on shoddy health practices for veterans, in nursing homes and more. It is a humbling experience to have my name linked in any way to so honorable a human being as Congressman Ted Weiss.
At this year’s conference I gave an acceptance speech which has prompted an enormously positive response. It is one of the few speeches I actually wrote beforehand and it was recorded. In light of the intensely positive response, I am publishing the text of the speech here.
Ted Weiss 2009 Advocacy Award Acceptance Speech
Before I get started let me first tell you that my favorite movie is, It’s A Wonderful Life. In that movie there’s a scene where Clarence the angel tells Jimmy Stewart that every time you hear a bell ring it means an angel has gotten their wings. I have decided that every time I hear a cell phone ring, say, during a speech, it means an angel has gotten their wings. That’ll make it easier for all of us.
For me, advocacy is an allegiance to the one thing all of us have a right to expect – equality. Advocacy has to be a tenacious alliance with an individual or group when their equal rights are being threatened. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men – and women – are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These rights – your rights – will die on the vine of hope if they are not given the water of respect and the sunlight of dignity. Your voice and mine play major roles in this task.
We’ve lost some extraordinary voices this year, a man I never met though I’m sure was deeply special, he was a drummer, Patrick Cavallo, and two who worked in this field, Frank Pierce and Mark Ylivisaker. Like many of us, both men knew the difference between those who really knew them and those who merely sought to use them. Neither man allowed the latter group to distract him from helping others. And, by the way, they’ve got their wings.
While it is true that time will still all our voices, I believe the voice of the human spirit lasts forever. The human spirit is alive and well in each of you: it lives in those of you who teach us you do not have to stand up to stand tall; it lives in those of you who teach us you do not have to have sight to have vision; and it lives in those of you who teach us you do not need hearing to know the sounds of injustice.
There will always be some who look to rob others of their equality because they are more concerned about fattening their wallets and thickening their bank rolls. I know there are people like this because I’ve met them and been wounded by them. I have heard their sweet sounding sugar coated words packed with arsenic. I’ll say one thing for brain injuries, I’ve never seen a fat wallet or thick bank roll protect someone from getting one.
Like other advocates, I have endured the efforts of those who would like to silence me.
But I will not be silent.
I will not be silent when I see anyone – any of you – being treated as if you are some form of diminished humanity. I will not be silent because what I am really talking about here today is freedom – your freedom and mine. The freedom to be who you are – safely – with equality – in the world you live in.
And when it comes to preserving our freedom, silence is never an option.
It is a wonderful life. Remember to live it. Many of you have earned your wings already.
Thank you, I love you all.