Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum -- take note!

Meet the designers and models from NIAD; The Institute for Artists with Disabilities.

This week we attended a fashion show staged to introduce the
artists with whom my daughter works each day. These works come directly from the heart and are created under the guidance of imaginative and patient local artists who give these developmentally and physically disabled young people the confidence to do really innovative things. Each outfit was created by the models themselves. Such pride!

There was a "runway" created with long strips of yellow tape on the carpeting (no raised Cat Walk here); chairs were lined up 2 rows deep on the sides and at the front where absolutely delighted friends and family laughed and shouted in their pride and joy! The models -- as often as not -- spontaneously joined us in the applause from the runway as if it were contagious -- and it was.

Take a look (click on the thumbnail) at the detail work on Dorian's beaded jacket (a crushed velvet piece rescued from the Salvation Army Thrift Store). She also decorated the hat and bag as well as the shirt and shoes. Now that's what I'd call stylin'!

As an aside; Dorian asked on the drive back to her apartment, "...Mom, what's strut?" For a minute I had no idea what she was asking, but usually the second question clarifies. It did. "Just before I came out to walk on the runway, my teacher said, now Dorrie, don't forget to strut!" A word long lost for the most part and one she's never had use for until now. Then I realized why she'd done a peculiar little jerky hip-switching movement as she walked between the yellow tapes. It had caused a lot of audience reaction -- and now I knew why. Dorian was "struttin'." Even though she had no idea what was being asked of her, somehow the message got through and strut, she did! A mother peacock could hardly have been more proud than I.

Dorian's brain damage involves visual perception, mainly, though it's more complex than that. I've never known just what she sees and how she sees the world. What does that do to shapes and colors for her? Through her artwork I have a window in that nothing else can provide. It has always been a real challenge to be able to read her. Her test scores over the years have been all over the spectrum -- everything from six months to age level. Her expressive ability is reasonably good, though repetition is a problem. Her vocabulary is not limited, though comprehension suffers in some areas. Her IQ is below the level of abstract ability which means that she lacks the capacity required for making judgments or weighing consequences. She can't handle the "what ifs". But in viewing her art work; her depictions of animals and people; her use of color, etc., I've always felt assured that she uses everything she has, and that learning is still occurring in that permanently-damaged brain; and that she compensates in many ways that are beyond a mother's ability to fathom. I just have to continue to trust her (and myself) enough to allow her to stretch and grow as far as her limitations will allow. And I believe that I'm doing that, and that NIAD is immeasurably helpful in supporting us in those efforts. I must find ways to let them know that. Maybe I'll just send them a link to this entry... .

Nothing at the fashion show, however, matched the sheer joy as expressed by, Mia, one of Dorrie's friends wearing her own hand-painted jacket topped by one of Dorian's hats. She was one of several models wheeled down the "runway" by proud attendants.

It was one of those times when you're aware that the boundaries of absolute bliss have been breached and that the circle of love has expanded exponentially to embrace everyone in the room and beyond.

What a rare event this was ... the kind that causes nights of smiling long after the day has ended and just before sleep descends; the sleep of the kind that heals.

One of those times when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were in the presence of pure unadulterated love... .

Photo: Click on these thumbnails to see the detail of the beading on Dorian's jacket.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Capt. Charles Young of the National Park Service and the son of former slaves ... .

How sad it is that we know so little about the giants of African American history. How sad is it that young black students have reached this generation still being asked to honor "the first black whatever" when we've been contributing with valor and distinction ever since the nation was formed. There are still articles being written based upon our continuing and relentless "march into the mainstream" as though we haven't always been there moving the country forward with our black shoulders to the wheel of progress along with immigrants from all over the world. And for more than 300 years -- with our legs in irons and our minds untaught. And we've been at it far longer than most. In my own family -- it has been since before the time of the Revolutionary War.

What kind of extraordinary man did it take to leap in one generation from the illiterate life of enslavement to become an honored graduate of the prestigious West Point Military Academy?

(Think Frederick Douglas, former slave and trusted advisor to President Abraham Lincoln. In my own family, my great grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, born in 1846 and enslaved for her first 19 years of life -- whose grandson, George Allen, became the president of Texas Southern University.)

What kind of nation is it that can maintain a system of governance that sacrifices at least a tenth of its human potential upon the altar of blind and debilitating racial prejudice? A nation that -- 345 years after the tragedy of slavery - only now has begun to see what racism has robbed us of over a shameful, bitter, and bewildering past and is (quite possibly) now writing us into a brighter future.

And, what kind of a nation is it that has the flexibility written into its founding documents that has allowed for the insight; the forgiveness and atonement; the breadth of experience garnered from the agonies of apartheid that we are only now beginning to recognize for what it was and is? The cost of the maintenance of white privilege is unfathomable; more than any nation can continue to burden itself with and still survive as leader of the free world.

And, as one of the forgotten heroes who forged the trail upon which today's black leaders now move with growing assurance, Captain Charles Young (who attained the rank of Lt. Colonel before the end of his career) and his Buffalo Soldiers of the Negro Armed Forces stand as reminders for us to take the time to pay homage and provide recognition so that young black students who are desperately searching for role models of excellence can find them.

And -- as a reasonably informed elder -- I'm ashamed to say that I only discovered him this past week.

How sad!

What a profound statement that makes about the failures of our system of public instruction with its critical omissions of black achievement and heroism.

This is a plea for black scholars to stop carping about how others tell our stories, and gives a powerful reason for us to tell them for ourselves and for future generations.

Our National Park Service provides the tools and the resources for doing just that.

Woke this morning knowing without a doubt that I'm precisely where I need to be on the planet this day.

... a really good feeling ... .