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.