Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ode to Foster Care

(There are many loving, giving foster parents and some decent programs out there too. This poem is not about you; it's about everyone/everything else.)

They call it foster "care."
But nothing about it is "caring."
And the only thing that it fosters
Is a sense of despair
Worthlessness
Fear 
Hopelessness
Mistrust
And eventually, apathy.
The orphanages of old were bulldozed
And in their place arose something just as sinister
Maybe more so, because of its gilded outer appearance
Masking the horrors that dwell within
Like the foster "parents" who don't parent,
Who are only in it for tax-free dollars
And/or for a live-in child sex toy and human punching bag.

Photo credit: citelighter.com
It's a sad existence
But who are you supposed to tell?
Who believes a foster kid?
Do you tell your teacher - the teacher you barely know because you've moved six times in three years - who probably won't believe you?
Do you tell the foster "mom" - who is married to the person who is abusing you and will probably accuse you of lying?
Do you tell your foster "brother," who also forces himself on you at night on the nights that your foster "father" doesn't?
Do you tell your case manager - the fifth one you've had this year because of the heavy staff turnover?
You tell no one.
You learn to tune out
You learn to block the pain
You learn how not to care
About yourself.
Why should you care 
When no one else cares about you?

Photo credit: Casa do Menor, Italy
There are no heroes in this story
There are seldom happy endings
Some kids get one
But you don't.
You are nothing but a case file,
Nothing but another ward of the state,
Nothing but a piece of @$$ to a pervert,
Nothing but someone's paycheck.
No one champions your cause
Your life is in the hands of a system too broken to heal itself
Kind, well-meaning but ill-equipped case "managers"
Or jaded not so well-meaning ones 
Juggling gargantuan caseloads
Barreling through bureaucracy
Eventually getting burned out
And, like everyone else in your life, quitting and leaving.
Leaving.
That's the only constant you know...
That everyone - everyone eventually leaves. 

Photo credit: blackandbrownnews.com



(Please visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network HERE for resources to help abused and traumatized youth.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dear Ms. Ruby Bridges

(This is cross-posted at the "Advocacy Without Borders" blog as well, available here.)

My six year old daughter came home with a book about Ruby Bridges today.

At first I was taken aback. How on Earth do you make any sense of segregation and hatred to a child who knows nothing of that life...without making them self-conscious, fearful, hurt, cynical, or bitter? It wasn't a conversation that I was exactly looking forward to having ever, though I knew it would one day be necessary. It certainly wasn't a topic I planned to explore at length with her at age six.  But life happened.

So she read the book (as did I). And I talked with her about Jim CrowPlessy v. FergusonBrown v. Board of EducationRosa ParksDr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of other topics. And of course, Ruby Bridges. It was heavy stuff. She listened intently. She asked questions. She became sad at times (as did I). But it was beneficial.

She asked if she could contact Ruby Bridges to let her know how she had impacted her. "If she's still alive." I told her I was pretty certain that Ruby Bridges was still alive as she was probably only in her early sixties. Through the wonder of the internet, I found Ms. Bridges' official website in a matter of seconds. She typed a message in the "Notes" of her iPad, and then she copied and pasted the text, emailing her through the website's contact form. With her permission, I am sharing the email (omitting a few identifying details). I hope it will be an meaningful to you to read the message as it is to me.

Photo credit: Jeff Alward/Oxford University Press


"Dear Ms. Ruby,

I like the story about you. My name is _______ and I am six and a half years old. I got a nonfiction book about you from my school. I was trying to find a book to read and I saw a book with a lot of white people holding signs up high. Their faces looked angry. And I saw a black girl at the bottom. I wanted to see what the book was about.

The girl was you. Six year old Ruby. If I were there I would want to be in your class. Not because we are both black people but because you are very brave. I was very sad that people were mean to you and to your family and to lots of black people. Your dad lost his job because he got fired when he wanted you to go to a good school. Your grandma and grandpa became homeless. I think you did a good thing helping bring black people into a whites only school and changing it to a school for everybody. 

I go to a school called ______ School for the Gifted and we have lots of people who are different at my school. We have people who look different and people who think in different ways. I like that. If everybody is the same, it is boring. 

Thank you for helping make things way better than it used to be a long time ago in 1960 when black people had to have old books and go to blacks only schools with old buildings with broken desks and bugs everywhere. If it was like that now I would be sad because I would miss seeing my friends very much if. I had to go to a blacks only school. You helped me a lot. 

I want you to know that I am brave too. I am Autistic and some people don't like it but I am happy. I like who I am.


Love,


_____________"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#JusticeForKayleb NOW

Most people who know me know how passionate I am about things that I care about, especially human rights. It's personal. I advocate and I write and I take action because I deeply believe in the causes I champion. I believe that regardless of age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability status, nationality, socioeconomic level, HIV or Hepatitis serostatus, political affiliation etc. that at the core you are first and foremost a human being, and by virtue of that fact you deserve respect and to be treated with dignity. You deserve to have your rights upheld. You deserve access to opportunities. You deserve a voice and autonomy over your own life. You should matter.

That's the dream. But it isn't reality yet. That's why we all fight - increase awareness, to raise consciousness, to change hearts and minds, to obtain justice. It's hard. It's tiring.

It's necessary though.

I am feeling emotional and don't think I will be able to go into as much detail in the next part as I'd like. Please bear with me if I'm not writing at my best; this is hard for me. It is too close...too close. To think about it hurts. To write about it hurts.

It's necessary though.

There is an alarming trend in society where individuals with disabilities, especially people of color, get the "short end of the stick;" or in other words, face sub-optimal outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.Employment rates are lower. Home ownership rates are lower. Graduation rates (high school and college). The percentage of married/partnered adult is lower. Yet rates of poverty are higher, as are rates of homelessness; likelihood of physical, emotional, sexual, and/or financial abuse; mental health diagnoses; suicide; murder; and unpleasant run-ins with law enforcement. We don't do a very good job as a society of accommodating the needs of disabled people and providing critical supports for us to succeed. Moreover, covert disability discrimination (ableism) is rampant; people are frequently infantilicized/patronized; viewed as "broken" or "less than" and therefore viewed as objects of pity; or alternatively viewed as "inspirational heroes" (this phenomenon is known as inspiration porn). Even though we're really just people, we're never just "people." 

Kayleb Moon-Robison is a person. He is a disabled person (like myself and two of my children, Kayleb is on the autism spectrum). He is a black (or African American) person. He is a Christian person. He is a male presenting person. He is a young person.

He is a victim of injustice.

In a turn of events almost too upsetting to repeat (you can read about it in detail HERE), Kayleb kicked a trash can during an autistic meltdown at a new school and was charged by the campus police officer with a second degree misdemeanor of "disorderly conduct." A few weeks later, Kayleb lined up with his classmates instead of remaining back in the classroom segregated, waiting for them all to leave the class before being permitted by his teacher to also get in line. For this minor infraction of the rules (a rule, it should be noted, that only applied to Kayleb; no other student in the class had to abide by it) the campus officer arrived. Attempting to take Kayleb to the principal's office, he grabbed Kayleb. Kayleb, a small, bespectacled child, pushed the officer away to free himself. He was then thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and carted off to juvenile. Charged and brought to trial (this month) for "assaulting a police officer," mild-mannered Kaylen became, at the age of 11 years old, a pre-teen felon (merely awaiting summer 2015 sentencing since the court has already determined that it has found facts "sufficient for guilt.") 

That's right. A pre-teen felon.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Kayleb should have been afforded certain provisions and accommodations by his school district and by local law enforcement. He was not. And now this 6th grade child has to face life as a convicted felon before he's even old enough to drive. Not because he shot, stabbed, raped, or murdered anyone, but because he did not receive sufficient support for his disability. He is now being made to pay the ultimate price.

Unless we do something about it.

Kayleb could have been me. He could have been my son. Or your son. Or your neighbor. Or someone in your community. Whether or not you are on the autism spectrum it has to be obvious to you that something is drastically wrong. Kayleb is not the only child in his district, his state, or the country to whom this has happened. Sadly, the cases occur far too often, and little is done because few people are aware of the problem. Today, I want you to be aware.

11 year old 6th graders with disabilities who have not committed an egregious crime DO NOT deserve to have their lives ruined by becoming a convicted felon before their teen years. Kayleb deserves a chance. He has endured enough, and he doesn't deserve this. Neither do any of the other people whose names I don't know who have been similarly wronged. For some people, it is too late to help them right the wrongs they have faced. But it's not too late for us to help Kayleb.

Will you join in with the Autistic community in demanding #JusticeForKayleb?

We want the prosectution of Kayleb to STOP.
We want this removed from his record.
We want him to serve ZERO time in a juvenile facility.
We want him taken out of the alternative school that he has been forced into and returned to a less restrictive general education environment with adequate supports for his needs.
We want this nightmare to be over for Kayleb, his mom Stacey, and their family.
And we want no one to have to have this also happen to them.

I need you help. Lei Wiley-Mydske and I started a Change.org petition yesterday for Kayleb. It is taking off.  But more attention and more public support is needed. Not just from the autistic and autism communities; not just from disability community, not just from communities of color. We need help from everyone.

Will you help?

Will you join in with us as we advocate for Kayleb on social media next month (for more details click HERE)?

And will you spread the word about this on social media, helping to boost the #JusticeForKayleb hashtag?

I hope I can count on you. Thank you for your love and support. 

In solidarity,

Morénike


Photo credit: #JusticeForKayleb FB page


More #JusticeForKayleb resources are linked below:



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Black Lives Matter??? The Day After (#WalterScott)

Only slept an hour last night. Couldn't stop thinking about life, death, race, gender, violence, deceit, corruption. About #WalterScott. About everything.

I had "the talk" with my kids this morning in the car. Not the "birds and the bees" talk. The "how to stay alive because you're black and therefore a threat" talk. Don't wear that dark gray hoodie you love anymore. Make eye contact with authorities at all times - forget everything I've ever taught you about how forced eye contact is a bad thing...do it anyway, even if it hurts. Speak in a soft, gentle tone. Keep your hands where they can see them at all times. No sudden or unexpected movements and ABSOLUTELY no stimming or fidgeting or flapping as it might be perceived as attempting to strike someone. No echolalia, as it might be perceived as trying to "mock" an officer. No going to the mall with a group of friends if more than two people are male-presenting and of color. Say "yes, sir," and "no, sir" with each statement. No nervous laughter. No sarcasm. Do everything that they ask of you even if it is unlawful. If they want to know your name, age, shoe size, whatever - just tell them. If they violate your rights we will file a complaint after the fact, but do not address it with them in the moment. If they hit you, shout at you, insult you, spit on you, just take it. We will seek justice for the wrongdoing through the legal channels. Don't put yourself at risk by trying to stand up for yourself.

Just take it.

They listened quietly. Asked me if it was okay to just run away. Inwardly I kicked myself for forgetting to mention running. "No," I replied. "Absolutely no running."

"Mom?"
"Yes?" I asked.
"I'd probably be nervous, Mom. I don't think I would be able to keep from moving and remember to keep my voice a certain way and remember to say 'sir' and all of those things. Will I still be okay? They know I'm just a kid."

Good point, I thought. I'd probably be too nervous to keep from stimming myself if it was me. And DO they know you're just a kid? I wondered silently. You are close to 12 year old Tamir Rice's age. He was just a kid too. It didn't save him.

"Mom?"
"Um hum, kiddo?"
"You didn't answer. Will I still be okay?"

Will you? Will you? For the love of God, I hope so. I hope so. But I don't know for sure.

"I hope so, sweetie. I think so, yes."

I just died a little - no, a lot - inside.







Image is a group of young black boys standing near a curb holding protest signs that state "Am I Next? (Photo credit: Afro dot com)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I don't want your autism awareness; I want autism acceptance.

Today is "World Autism Awareness Day." While I think awareness is important, I ask you, as a Autistic mom to Autistic and non-Autistic kids: What value is awareness without acceptance? We have been "aware" of HIV for decades and yet people still choose to fear and stigmatize those living with it (case in point: HIV criminalization laws and recent HIV criminalization bills). We have been "aware" of the gender earnings gap - that women like me make ~ $0.64 to every $1.00 a man makes since I was a child and it hasn't substantially improved. We have been "aware" of sexism, of racism, of anti-Muslim sentiments, of anti-Semitism, of homophobia, of transphobia, of child marriage, of child abuse, of intimate partner violence, of sexual assault. As a society we are "aware" of all of those things. What substantive changes have come as a result of this "awareness?" Not as much as there should be.

I am a Christian (and proud of it). One well known quote in my community is "Faith without works is dead." Whether you are a Christian or not, I think you can understand the value of that statement; if you profess to be a follower of Christ but your actions and words are anything but Christlike, then your faith is of little value to anyone but maybe yourself. Today I say to you AWARENESS WITHOUT ACCEPTANCE IS DEAD. It doesn't help me. It doesn't help my children. It doesn't help my community. Whatever you are "aware" of is probably not accurate anyway. How much money we cost? How much of a "burden" we are on everyone? How much we "need" to be "cured" of our "horrible" condition? How important it is to find the "cause" so we can counsel mothers-to-be about their pregnancy "options" (AKA convince them to abort unborn babies believed to be Autistic, as is currently done with other conditions diagnosed in utero)? How Autistic females supposedly don't exist (or rarely do), hence the need to "light it up blue" because blue is a "boy" color for a "boy" diagnosis? That's your "Autism Awareness?"

Being "aware" of autism is the reason that this story is in the news today - on World Autism Awareness Day, no less. This little boy and his mother live in Australia. They are law-abiding individuals, but since the child has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, he is perceived as a likely "future burden" on taxpayers, so they will probably be deported back to the Philippines. Because of course there's no way he could ever contribute anything to society, right? He's Autistic, so all he does is drain resources and wreak lives. That's what we do -destruction. We "work faster" than "pediatric AIDS, childhood cancers, and juvenile diabetes all put together" - right, Autism Speaks? We are these confusing, troublesome puzzle pieces that no one can figure out?

You can keep your awareness. I want acceptance. Acceptance or nothing. Don't be aware of me. Accept me.


I ask you to #WalkInRed, #ToneItDownTaupe, #LightItUpGold, or anything but light it up blue. The only thing that gives me the "blues" today is the negative way my people are perceived. We are not "locked away" in our minds. We're right here...just different. Accept us. Please.