A year ago I sent off an application for a small grant. I could not envision the work or even the concrete outcomes with much accuracy then, but the premise was something I felt strongly about and that I believed I could contribute to.
Since that time, myself and my friend and colleague in this grant, Elsa, have travelled to trainings, spent countless hours researching and collaborating, even more hours off on our own working on details, creating relationships, making connections, repeatedly asking for patience from our families while we took these months to focus on this project. This work came to its culmination on Wednesday night with a cross-community conversation/symposium/networking event.
It was an absolutely exhilarating night, a beginning of so many things.
Through a specific process of progressive conversation that night, we elicited and recorded a list of ideas on how we can make our community more inclusive of those with differences, how we can ensure that these children, youth and adults are not just tolerated, not just acknowledged, certainly not separated through special services, but truly included in all aspects of what already makes our community strong.
This list came from people living and working in more than 5 different districts in my city. It came from moms, from dads, from grandparents, from school board members, from baristas, from museum staff (public museum, science museum, children's museum), from business owners, from special ed teachers, from regular ed teachers, from school board members, from pediatricians, from lawyers, from behavior analysts, from employers, from service agencies, from real estate agents, from college students, from university staff, from sales and marketing experts, from camp and recreation department directors, from people with differences, from people without differences, from comedians, from bankers, from non-profit founders, from neighbors, from all manner of citizen.
We also asked for and captured a second list: What I personally will do in the next 6 months to further these ideas.
There was not enough time during our event to hear all of the 6 month commitments people were willing to make. We have work to do to form these interest/action groups, to gather the resources - some of which were offered that night - to bring these initiatives to life. Connections are made, people are talking.
Through this forum, Elsa and I essentially asked if we could share the accountability for ensuring our children and others with differences have a place at the table, have the opportunity to develop rich relationships and make meaningful contributions to our community, thus strengthening it for all.
The community answered without hesitation, loud and clear.