by Millie Gonzalez, Co-emcee of the NJ Disability Pride Parade
On October 4, I will join hundreds of people with and without disabilities to CELEBRATE disability pride. Together, we will honor and demonstrate that disability is a beautiful and natural part of human DIVERSITY.
For the third year in a row, I will have the HONOR of sharing the stage with my friend and fellow mistress of ceremonies, Maria, as dozens of musicians, dancers, poets, motivational speakers community leaders -- all with different disabilities -- showcase the UNIQUENESS of our humanity through entertainment.
Each year, the number of people who attend the parade has grown significantly, which serves as a testament to our inherent connectedness and DESIRE to come together to share who we are with the greater community. Although it is not a march, it is also a nod of RESPECT toward those who have fought for our freedoms and for those who continue to demand our equal civil rights.
the vast diversity that exists in our COMMUNITY, disability pride
manifests itself in various forms, from community organizing and
demonstrations, to mentorship and advocacy, to integration and public
policy, to simply living LIFE with a disability through work, play,
performance and family.
Although disability is a large part of my IDENTITY, to me, disability pride is a feeling best expressed through real-life experiences -- three of which I will share here:
Shortly after earning my master's degree (focused, in part, on disability studies) in 2007, I attended my first national Spina Bifida Association conference. A lesson in INDEPENDENCE, it was the first time I ever took a flight by myself. When I got to the designated gate, I was thrilled to find a half dozen other wheelchair users, including two young adults, Jen and Maureen (with whom I would spend much time over the course of the next week and with whom I have remained friends). However, it was when I arrived at the host hotel and rolled into the lobby filled with wheelchair users, crutch users and others with unique gaits, that I was overwhelmed with emotion. As my other new friend Jesus described, "I was finally HOME," in a place where no explanations were needed and friendships emerged from a place of common experience as well as unrelated compatibility. I should mention here that I experienced the same feeling and newfound friendships years later when I attended, first as a speaker, then as an associate member, The CP Group regional conferences for professional adults with cerebral palsy.
a year ago this October, when my house was destroyed by Superstorm
Sandy, I again found COMFORT through my disabled existence. Within less
than 24 hours of finding out on Facebook that my home had been severely
damaged, a small group of my amazing "cripfam" created an online
crowd-funding page to help with the eventual rebuild, while others
offered to send me medical supplies, that from common experiences, they
knew I needed. Disability-related organizations, including the Alliance
Center for Independence and many others who are sponsoring our event
this year, also offered help. My news feed and inbox were inundated with
messages of support from friends and strangers which continue to
complement my livelihood today - each one a reminder of the HOPE, LOVE
and SOLIDARITY that exists within the disability community of which I am
Perhaps most fittingly, one of the most PROFOUND experiences of disability pride occurred in 2011 at the inaugural NJ Disability Pride Parade & Celebration. As that momentous day came to a close, Maria and I exchanged a moment that, we later discussed, will live with us for eternity. We made eye contact, wholeheartedly smiled, felt a wave of intense energy and began to cry -- tears of true DISABILITY PRIDE. In that moment, as we looked out to hundreds of people dancing and smiling in the crowd, we realized that all the time and effort put forth by our small steering committee to bring this event to fruition was worth it... and we were blessed to be a part of this incredible initiative.
This, our third consecutive year, is no different except that even more people will come TOGETHER, some in person, others in spirit, to not only represent the beauty that exists in the diversity of disabilities, but to experience what it feels like to be disabled and proud.