The values extolled by Martin Luther King Jr. live on how we live them.
Standing on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd of 200,000 civil rights supporters in August 1963.
The 17-minute long speech changed the course of civil rights in the U.S. It proved that the belief in acceptance prevails over the burdens of hardship. Dr. King’s fight for racial equality in this country will forever imprint history, in part, because of this speech. Throughout The Great Depression a similar indomitable spirit endured. Beliefs were the only things people had to hold onto.
It’s evident that simple, core values have been intricately weaved into the fabric of society long before history was “history.” It’s even more evident that America has its own history of “climbing the ladder” and clearing paths to achieving its dreams.
Yet, as people, it seems we’re all still in the fight for acceptance—but when you’re one of the nearly 650 million individuals around the world living with a disability, the fight isn’t about bragging rights or how “good’ you are at any given thing. It is, however, about convincing others to take the time to not only notice—but see—something other than the obvious.
American pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick’s quote comes to mind: “One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world—making the most of one’s best.”
If the fight for acceptance is indeed part of the “game” of life, South African native Oscar Pistorius certainly contributed his fair to share to the estimated ten percent of the world’s population of physically-challenged individuals who are changing the rules.
A double amputee, Pistorius’s refusal to be defined by his disability made him an international star, as he holds various records for the fastest times in the 100, 200, and 400- meter dashes.
Pistorius once told a British newspaper that if he wants to be taken seriously amongst a sea of able-bodied competitors, he has to maintain a strong work ethic, think positively, and learn how to properly cope with his disability. A snippet of his story, along with links and tips on how to pave a path to acceptance—with a disability—can be found here.
While finding the strength to accept anything is an uphill battle for anybody, no one can judge how you reach that point of sobriety—nor is it fair to say a physically-challenged person’s struggle to gain acceptance isn’t as important or legitimate as that of a “normal” person’s.
I think it’s unfair to even compare the two, because in the back of that wheelchair user’s mind (or whatever the circumstances may be), there’s a layer of consciousness that screams, “I can’t change the one thing I want to change about myself” on top of every other emotion there is to feel.
That’s where one’s support system comes into the equation. Like Mr. Pistorius, I contribute to that ten percent of the global population who have some form of a disability. My road to acceptance started when I wrote my first word. I had no idea where that road would lead. Once I saw the power words have to connect one idea to another, I started to realize I not only had a real shot at a career, but also had a shot at building a platform to “stand” on and maybe open a few eyes in the process.
I’ve been in a wheelchair since birth. I know I wouldn’t be as comfortable as I am with that if I didn’t have family and friends who invest in me, my passion for writing, and show me what acceptance is all about. I’ve had my share of bad apples but I’ve weeded through those and found the sweet worth keeping. It sounds cliché, but the road to acceptance can’t—and won’t—start unless you have good people around you.
It’s like driving through a pitch-black tunnel with no end in sight—only to come to an unexpected turn, where a familiar face is waiting to help you dig out a path. Feeling accepted…can there be a feeling any better?
If you take a wrong turn, you’re not alone. There are tools out there to help you get back on track. The Americans With Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, prohibits discrimination of any person with a disability—regardless of age, gender, or ethnic background.
This lifted a weight off thousands of shoulders, allowing people to find work and contribute to their communities—proving that while the times may have changed, the right to climb your ladder, to the level and place of your choosing, has not. And so may we bring it back to center, today, as we celebrate and meditate on the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., efforts that have advanced not only our ideas on race but on acceptance and the many shades of freedom:
“I say to you that our goal is freedom, and I believe we are going to get there because however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom.”