When I first started my job at UC Berkeley, coordinating (- and “coordinating” is UC Berkeley-speak for managing/directing) a program in conjunction with the state of California specifically for the employment of students with disabilities, I was a greenhorn with disability.
Disabled myself, sure, and that’s why I was hired: I had a Master’s degree and over 10 years experience in Human Resource Development and Training, but almost no experience with disability other than I myself have a disability.
They figured that it would be easier for me to pick up the disability-culture and disability-community pieces than it would be to hire someone who didn’t have the HR experience and training but was tight with disability. So! I got the job!
Early in, I organized a recruiting event with a grassroots campaign organization.
This was in Berkeley, remember, which is a sort of a Mecca for the disabled, given that it’s the home of the disability rights movement. I had told the organization that I coordinated a program that connected employers and students representing diverse populations.
I think she thought that when I said, “diversity,” I meant race; but I hadn’t. I meant disability. Disability, is after all, a component of diversity.
Anyway. I got together a room full of interested students with disabilities – many of them with pretty obvious disabilities. A packed room. All there, eager to meet a recruiter, eager to work, eager to show their stuff.
The recruiter arrived. A young, slim, pretty woman with brown hair and pale skin.
She greeted me with a smile, asked where the students were, she just “couldn’t wait” to meet them!
I opened the door to the room the students were in, she went in, took a few steps in looked at everyone in the room, spun on her heel and walked out.
I followed her out, quizzical. Why’d she turn tail and leave?
She turned to me and said, “I think there must be some mistake. We don’t hire these people.”
This is where I want to say I said something clever and quick but that would be a lie. I didn’t.
I stood there, my jaw was open, I was in shock. I didn’t say or do anything. I just walked her to the door outside and said goodbye and had to walk back into the room full of waiting students and make up some bullshit something. I have no memory of what I said to them to explain her leaving. None at all.
But that moment scorched my mind and fueled my fire.
I no longer see it as a moment full of shame – shame that I didn’t do or say the right thing. Shame that I didn’t speak up or act or flex my muscles or STAND UP.
I see it as a moment that I needed; a moment that shook my soul up and committed myself – possibly for life – to advocacy, to learning to stand up.
Sometimes that’s what it takes: a moment that is simply unforgiveable. Unforgettable. A moment that clicks with your soul, a moment that sets a new definition within yourself as to WHO you want to be, WHAT you want to stand up for.
These moments… I think they are gifts – from the universe to ourselves. Gifts of priceless bounty because they have us walking on the edge of a blade, deciding whether or not we want to temper ourselves.
Or don’t we?
Or won’t we?
Will we stand up? Do we speak a truth that will not be popular but which we know rings clearly within our moral compass?
Because it’s not easy being the one that will stand up or speak out – people mostly only like the ones who stand up and speak out after they are dead. Then they become famous and have streets named after them but when they are alive? They are just as unpopular as it can get; the person sitting alone in the Cafeteria.
The gift of a moment. The gift from the universe to ourselves.
Gifts of priceless bounty because they have us walking on the edge of a blade, deciding whether or not we want to temper ourselves.
Do we? Or don’t we? Will we? Or won’t we?
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.