The x-rays of the bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain make the point; life happens to us whether we like it or not. So does death. So do experiences whose realities are so ruthlessly sudden and savage that when (if) you come out the other side with something resembling your wits about you, you’ll likely find yourself viewing things from a new perspective.
Now, needless to say, when I was held up in Brooklyn in 1984 and shot in the head, things changed. Far, far more than even I realized at the time. The mind and body, it seems, have a way of digesting certain realities over time, particularly when trauma is involved. Were they to absorb so massive a reality in one fell swoop, I suspect some would implode. That would’ve been my fate.
It must be said, I suppose, that all my life I’ve acted, in one way or another, to expose and, hopefully, deplete bigotry’s presence. Whether its racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, the unforgiveable treatment of our senior citizens, and so on, I’ve never been able to sit on my hands, as it were, when people are being oppressed, having their rights denied, and, as so often is the case when it comes to persons with disabilities (PWD), dehumanized. A reality that came home to roost when I became a PWD as a result of my brain injury and PTSD.
PWD are on the receiving end of some of the most vicious forms of bigotry imaginable. They are perceived and treated as if they are little more than revenue streams for the greedy, and, equally despicable, tattered remnants of humanity whose only purpose is to be trotted out for display purposes when various agencies decide to use them as bait for donors, or visual fuel for self-aggrandizement, or both.
It would be naive to think this kind of behavior is linked solely to for-profit companies. Not so. I’ve known and know some non-profits run by arrogant, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing cretins who, in truth, don’t care a wit about the people they say they care about. Next time you run across a non-profit company in business to help PWD, find out how many PWD they employ. Find out how many PWD are on their board of directors. And, while you’re at it, find out what they do with the money they raise. See how much is used to directly benefit the lives of those they are said to care about. Find out – to the penny.
I am writing this essay, in part, to help some people understand (many already do) why I advocate the way I do. Why, as some have rightly observed, my advocacy style might be rather aggressive. Some would say, too in the oppressor’s face. Some have wondered why I’ve continued to advocate even after losing all my income in 2008 for doing just that (I would not remain silent when an Albany-based New York State Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Waiver Provider was blatantly denying program participants their rights). Why I’ve continued to advocate even after the New York State Department of Health, also unhappy with my advocacy, simply took away my housing subsidy, and, along with the aforementioned provider and others, damaged my ability to be employed in the field of brain injury in New York State and, I suspect, Massachusetts as well.
All that backlash because I would not remain silent when I saw, in this case, individuals with brain injury disabilities having their rights denied, sometimes brutally so. One particularly abhorrent creature comes to mind. When a program participant would tell this creature about something they were having a tough time dealing with, this vile thing would invariably respond with, “To bad, so sad.” The program’s owner was well aware of this person’s behavior, and yet he works there still. Testimony, I believe, to the owner’s profit-before-people mindset.
As to why have not stopped my advocacy. There’s a constellation of reasons. I was raised in a civil rights family, our minister marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Growing up me heroes included King and Geronimo. My list of heroes grew to include Mandela, Elie Wiesel, Medger Evers, Gandhi, Malcolm X, and more. All of whom suffered more for their advocacy than I ever have. Since the shooting I’ve met others who are heroes of mine. People who are not household names. Here is a taste.
- A remarkable woman who, while walking with her husband one wintry day pulling their two children on a sled, was hit by a snowmobile driven by an intoxicated human being. When she regained consciousness, she learned she was permanently paralyzed from the neck down. She also learned her two had died in the accident.
- A woman who sustained a brain injury and forever lost her ability to walk because of mosquito bite that led to meningitis.
- A young man who,, while in a car on his way to a party with friends, was in a car accident. He suffered a brain injury and witnessed the decapitation of two of his friends during the accident.
- A several women who suffered strokes in childbirth.
That’s just a few, I could go on. I have a long list of heroes. I also have quite a list of graves too. Those who didn’t make it, sometimes because the greed-based system failed. I have plenty of motivation to fight.
And then, of course, for me there is that moment I came to on the ground after I was shot. That moment when I knew I was going to die. I was completely alone in that experience. One of the gifts of having survived that is this, there is nothing any government or provider or company or agency or individual can do to me that comes close to that hell. Not even a little.