I've witnessed #BlackLivesMatter

Yes, I've witnessed #BlackLivesMatter and it was before the movement ever began.

Maybe that is why I get so very frustrated when I see people discounting the meaning behind the hashtag/movement.  As a society we have a very short term memory - we seem to forget that we have a lot of growing up and evolving to do. That we've made some bad choices in how we've treated segments of our society, our own people..our fellow citizens..fellow humans.

#BlackLivesMatter doesn't mean all other lives have no value.

It doesn't mean to believe that you believe all police are bad.

It doesn't raise one segment of society over another, but rather brings all of us up to a level that is even where we can stand shoulder to shoulder in bettering our world.

Yes, #BlackLivesMatter.

What is so wrong in saying that where some of us feel we need to say.."well, so does...blah blah?"

I realize this is a hot button issue and I may get some flack from friends in writing this out, but it is something I feel needs to be said.  I feel it so strongly because I've witnessed and participated in experiences where I've seen and respected the work of so many, so long ago, fighting to be heard while they worked to better their communities, and may I say against all odds...things many of us have no clue about.

When I hear or read #BlackLivesMatter it triggers a memory from over a decade ago when I was a very vocal advocate and activist working to bring about compliance of students' rights in special education. An issue that is and will always be near and dear to my heart.

At the time I was extremely involved on a state-wide coalition of parent advocacy group's board. I was also full time volunteering my rather assertive skills as an advocate for students and their parents.  It was a role I didn't choose, it selected me when I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with special needs, who was falling through the cracks of an underfunded mandate - his right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

I went from being ignorant of the law, to being a pissed off parent, to organizing a local parent group to ultimately joining that group with others into a coalition battling the issue on a state and national level. The state wide coalition worked with the National Training and Information Center (NTIC) in Chicago. Eventually we took part in working on other issues with groups across the country, as we had many common bonds even though our main focus may have been different.

It was during that time that NTIC asked me if I would be willing to work with a community center in Chicago on advocacy training. They had many issues with the Chicago Public School system and special education was an area many of their parents did not understand their rights in - needless to say I jumped at the opportunity.  It didn't matter to me that it was in one of the worst inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago. My husband at the time thought I was crazy, but he knew better in trying to tell me not to go.

As I was driving in to neighborhood I started noticing how the run down the residences were - that just about on every street corner there was a liquor store and bars everywhere, and yes, as I got closer to my destination the color of skin of the people changed from white, to latino, to black.

I started getting a little nervous, but not for the reason you may think. My nerves happened because of the condition of the neighborhood I was in was so ravaged, with Chicago police cars all over the place, I realized there must be a lot of crime.

I pulled up to the community center - a building brightly painted with murals that stood out among what I could only compare to ruins. Before I knew it two rather large black men approached my car and told me they were there to escort me into the building, "It's for your own safety," one said.

I felt like I was in a war zone.

When I entered the building I was warmly greeted, and saw that a couple of other organizers/advocates I knew were already there. The room we met in was filled with all ages of people.  I explained to all present what I did, gave an overview of IDEA and Section 504 of the ADA (special education and disability laws) - and then...then I listened.

I listened to people tell me their stories about schools literally falling apart. About spoiled food being served at lunch. About their lives including how one mother was alone because her husband was in jail for selling drugs (pot)- how they lost his income from his regular job, and how her sons were being recruited into the gang, even her son with disabilities. She spoke about all she was facing. Working multiple jobs trying to stay on top of a housing loan that amounted to being a predatory lending scheme - a mountain that was impossible for that mom to even begin to climb. I couldn't help it, my tears flowed - I knew telling her about an IEP for her son in special education seemed like offering a crumb to a starving man.

More stories came out...more of the same, repeated over and over. The people gathered there were so open, so blunt about their lives that it was so much to take in at times I wanted to find a bathroom to run to so I could have a moment to openly sob.  They were not looking to hear about free services or handouts....all those people in this community center...wanted to know how they could better their neighborhood to give their children a real chance at life. They were being parents in, again what I call, a war zone.  They were organizing..a grass roots movement dissecting where to begin...which issue to tackle first because they knew they were worthy of so much more - that they mattered, and especially their children mattered most. They were working to save lives - literally.

That day was probably one of the most eye-opening experiences in my life. It has remained in me since experiencing it - being part of touching someone's life - someone with so much courage and strength. Then about a year later another experience happened that I will always be grateful for.

That experience came when I was on an Amtrak to Washington D.C. where our state-wide coalition would meet with grassroots community groups from across the nation to work on issues together. The train I was on was packed full. The woman I sat next to was just slightly older than me. She was somewhat soft spoken and part of another group coming from the inner-city of Chicago. We chatted quite a bit. She told me about the issues the group she was with was working on- predatory lending and the condition of their schools was at the top of the list. I learned a lot from her on how all the issues play into one another and negatively impact the community. A domino effect out of control. We were about an hour out of D.C. when she shared with me about her children. She gave birth to three children, only one had survived. Two of her sons were killed in drive-by shootings.  As a mother I couldn't imagine the pain and ache in her heart. I sat in amazement at her strength not to give-up because she was on that train to D.C. not to complain, but again, to work to better her community in the name of her sons.

Yes, #BlackLivesMatter.

To my friends out there who see that statement as a slap against your own worthiness, I ask you to listen. Hear the stories and realize where they come from. Do not see it as a hit to your worthiness but see it for what it is - a call to action. A chance for our society to grow and become better.

You can believe in it and still believe that most police work hard at protecting all of us - much like you can believe women deserved to have the vote - or in equality for all - disability rights - family farms need to be saved ...etc...etc...etc..

Anyway - that is my take on it when I hear or see #BlackLivesMatter - I remember these experiences in my life and pray that one day the war zones within our own country will forever be eliminated. Our children deserve a country that is whole - free - and safe.


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