As a proud Black person, proud Deaf person, and proud Detroiter, I feel lucky every day to have the opportunity to work for justice in all of these capacities via my job at Detroit Disability Power. My personal experience fighting for equal access throughout my life has become a resource in my work, and a means to connect with people whose disabilities, needs and identities are different from mine. It’s an honor today to invite you to join DDP as a member, where your experience is valued -- whatever combination of growth, insight, losses and community made you who you are today.
Image description: A large numeral 100, with photos inside each digit of disability activists at protests. The 1 is shaded with yellow, the first 0 with pinkish red, and the second 0 with blue.
DDP’s membership campaign this month is paying tribute to American history’s most dramatic disability rights event: the “504 sit-in” in San Francisco in 1977. Over 100 people occupied a federal building for more than three weeks, until they won the first regulations enforcing rights and access for disabled people nationwide. (Learn more from these sources.) Image description: A black and white photo of a May 1977 edition of the Black Panther Party newspaper whose front-page story is a celebration of the occupation's success. Photo from Billy X Jennings: Black Panther Party Archives One aspect of that victory that moves me greatly is how the organizers drew on so many forms and layers of solidarity. Vital support came from churches, service providers like the Delancey Street rehab center, and unions like the International Association of Machinists. Disabled lesbians and gay men were among the occupation’s central organizers and mobilized their community to speak out for the sit-in. And all accounts of the 504 occupation agree that paramount for its success were the hot meals delivered day after day by the Black Panther Party. Without this vital help, the occupiers quite simply would have failed. The Panthers’ commitment was driven by leaders’ respect for BPP member Brad Lomax, a Black disabled activist who insisted on connecting the demands of the two great civil rights struggles that shaped his life. The 504 sit-in is meaningful to me personally as a powerful example of how people joined a broader struggle, committed to being human and caring for one another in a thoughtful way. I’m sure even within this campaign there were moments of racism, sexism, homophobia -- not to mention internalized ableism. But there was a real, intentional effort to behave with mutual respect, and that means so much to me! And it is an effort I see today in my work with DDP, an organization that seeks to live out the legacy of the 504 organizers.
Image description: A black and white photo from the 1977 occupation of the federal building in San Francisco. Two white women and one Black man are relaxing together on a couch. The Black man has just brought food to the protesters on behalf of the Black Panther Party. The person in the center is laughing and has her legs extended, bare feet resting on a wheelchair. Photo reproduced with permission from HolLynn D'Lil's book "Becoming Real in 24 Days: One Participant's Story of the 1977 504 Demonstrations."
DDP values how my work as an organizer is rooted in my upbringing within the Black and Deaf community. While mainstream, white society told me to pursue the “American” values of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, these ideals feel very individualistic and often just unattainable to me as a Black, Deaf person. But I was nourished by the Black community, which gave me countervailing values of mutual support, interdependence and community sustenance. And I’m proud that DDP’s development as a membership organization is based on those same values.
Please join me today as a member of DDP, to multiply your impact in building a better world. We come together with all our differences, bringing with us all our communities. And together, we can win real change. With love, hope and humanity --
Image description: A photo of Teddy, a brown-skinned bearded Black man wearing a grayish-green knit hat and smiling. Below, a handwritten "Teddy" first-name signature.
Teddy Dorsette III DDP Communications Manager