Monday, January 14, 2008

An Email From The Boss

So today the black armband begins for me. I'm not dressed yet (it's 5 AM) but I've got it around my arm anyways. I've spent some time thinking about what I want to say, now I get to go out in the world and say it. On Friday I'll take off the armband.

So that means it's over?

After the second post about Brent I received an email from Manuela, the Executive Director of Vita Community Living Services otherwise known as 'the boss'. She wrote that she'd had a sleepless night thinking about what had happened to Brent, Manuela firmly embraced the idea of the weeks memorial but, as ED's do, was thinking about it in a 'big picture' kind of way. "What can we at Vita do to keep momentum going, keep the discussion happening, be purposeful in our awareness of violence against people with disabilities?" she pondered.

Vita has been working for two years now on a project to examine services to people with disabilities, to ask hard questions about safety, to ensure that people with disabilties are safe in care. Those two years have sensitized all of us who work there to the issue of abuse, to the need for safe harbour for people with disabilities. This black ribbon campaign just seemed to be an extension of what we were already doing.

Manuela mentioned, in her email to me, the 'yellow ribbon' campaign by People First here in Ontario (it may have been more broadly based) which was aimed at the closure of institutions and the welcoming of people to the community - home. I too remembered the campaign. I remembered having the yellow ribbon pinned on my shirt by a woman with Down Syndrome just before I gave a keynotes speech. I remember brushing tears away as she spoke to me about life in the institution and the need for freedom.

So Vita is proposing to work with our member self advocates and begin a ribbon campaign against violence against people with disabilities. We could attach the ribbon to little cards which explained the purpose of the ribbon - as a discussion starter, an awareness raiser and a memorial to those, like Brent Martin, who are murdered because of disability.

I like the idea of raising awareness.

But what I like even more is that already people are talking about the issue in ways they didn't before Brent's story became more public. I like that people are thinking deeply, like Manuela has, about what we can do, how we can make a difference. I like Belinda's comment yesterday telling us all about what happened when she wore her black ribbon to church. I like knowing that there are people around the world, not many perhaps, who will be wearing a black ribbon today and this week.

Brent died asking for affection and care.

It may have come late, but it's come.


Unknown said...

Dave, I spent an afternoon walking with my sister in the wintery Flemish fields, and suddenly she said that other people can't understand she dares to walk alone there, without even the company of a big labrador like mine.
My sister and me, we both expressed our surprise about how, in the eighties and nineties, it was much safer for individuals outside. We were naive, happy and fearless.
This reminded me of what the neighbouring town Kortrijk has offered its inhabitants who feel too vulnerable to walk alone in the streets. Anyone can get for free a private alarm system, a kind of small siren that goes off when you press a button. I can witness it makes a very terrible, howling noise!!
My sister said, and I agree with her, that religion, the belief in a God who sees and judges people, was the best remedy in the past against all kinds of misbehaviour or anti-social behaviour. When we were children, people were afraid of hell. So the idea is we should replace hell by something else, but by what?
I hope the mentality will change, that people with disabilities will be respected all over the world, and that technology will offer a means to punish every person who doesn't show respect.

Belinda said...

Dear Mieke,
I read something recently about hell being an absence of God, just as cold is an absence of heat and darkness is an absence of light.

Fear really does nothing more than send evil underground. It doesn't change a heart. Only love can do that.

The most powerful agent for change is love, acceptance, and belief in the value of each human being regardless of mental ability, attractiveness or apparent productivity. We all need that understanding personally. Each life has meaning and purpose; each person the ability to give and receive.

Sharon McDaid said...

Thank you Dave for writing about Brent. It's fitting that people should remember him and protest the terrible crime. The black ribbon is being worn in Ireland today too.

Mieke, I don't believe one needs a belief in either God or hell to act in a moral and ethical manner. I want to see respect for all the diversity of humans, not via punishment, but education and explanation and people protesting against atrocities like this murder.

Ettina said...

As a very moral atheist I'm offended by statements that religion is necessary for morality.

Belinda said...

Dear Ettina,
If it was me who offended you, it might be unnecessary. I don't believe what you wrote. There are many "religious" people who lack morality and many non-religious people who are very ethical and moral. (With apologies to Dave for veering from the purpose of CTF. I just wanted to un-offend a fellow bloggee)

Unknown said...

Dear Belinda,
I agree with you that love is what changes our hearts. Still we have to defend vulnerable people including ourselves against those who are loveless, or should I say those who behave as if they are "wild".
How right it is that each person regardless of looks and talents has the same value! Just today I had to comfort a friend whose son committed suicide. Thinking about that boy, it occurred to me that however short and at times difficult his life was, it is still "a complete life", a personal one, a valuable one.

I'm so glad the action you started Dave, is getting known in bigger circles. Even in my small country, at least some people know now who Brent was. The reactions of people who have a heart comfort me somehow, and I hope Brent's family will be able to read or hear them.Anoher example of how sad and negative things may lead to positive ones.

Unknown said...

Dear Ettina,
I believe you, I strongly believe one can be an atheist and be very moral at the same time.
In my language ( which is Dutch)the word "godvrezend" (fearing god)was regularly used in former times in the sense of "acting in a moral way".
One often reads that only by getting love in childhood etc. one can become a person filled with love for other people.
But I also think that in education the difference between what is morally good and bad should be explained clearly, regularly, and explicitly! Some people who commit crimes do it for fun, they don't even have the feeling they are doing sth terribly wrong. What a danger.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

As an atheist, I too don't believe that one necessarily must have a concept of "hell" or "punishment" or an omnipotent being "judging" one's behavior in order to have a sense of moral "rightness" or justice, or right from wrong. I also don't believe that relgion has a monopoly on the means for teaching morality.

I DO respect that for many people, the strongest clearest messages on morality was wrapped up in general religious teachings about God and the rest. I also respect that for many people, religion is a source of solace and comfort during hard times. And maybe for some individual people, believing in a moral and just God even makes it easier for them to adhere to moral principles themselves.

But there are other ways to teach morality, and integrate those moral values into one's sense of self, without necessarily teaching that there is a God, or that right and wrong is determined by God. I was RAISED atheist. And I was still taught a clear sense of intrinistic morals.

The key, as mieke points out, is a stable environment filled with unconditional love. And CLEAR, regular, explicit explanations of right from wrong. Whether or not you also weave general religious teachings into that.

Susan said...

I just want to say, "I'm in", Dave. I saw Belinda's black armband yesterday and said, smiling, "Are you in mourning?"

"Yes," she replied and the tone of her answer reduced me to silence...

Kathryn said...

HI Dave,

Emma designed it and sent it to me via email. The link to her post about it is a hot link on her name on my post.

To grab the picture to use it simply right click on it and then scroll up to the popup menue to "save picture" then save it somewhere on your computer. Then you have it available to use on your blog.

At least that's how it works on my pc. The Emma who designed it is Emma, wheelchair princess and you can find her blog not only on the hotlink in my post but on my side bar as well.

Hope that helps. Emma was so great to design it and has posted on her blog about Brent as well. You have really started something that is flowing out beyond maybe what you could know. It's good. Raising awareness that this sort of hideious thing does happen is really important. Thanks for alerting me about Brent. It's so sad that his murder did not so much as make a ripple in international news.