I serve as the AWS Foundation Chair because some experiences shape a person’s life.
For me, it was a gym class full of 5th grade square dancers in 1980. Square dancing posed two equal discomforts: 1) boys; and 2) the order of selection. This was especially true for a quiet bookworm who sported a hairstyle consisting mostly of tangles and two large barrettes, who wore Toughskins rather than Jordache jeans and whose Jelly shoes were devoid of beaded, friendship pins. Last to be picked – guaranteed exclusion – and a spot on the sideline. It was there, against that wall, that I would inevitably watch my classmates “Promenade” and “Do Si Do” for the hour-long gym class.
In a scene reminiscent of a John Hughes film, Chip Baxter (the most popular, athletic, smart, attractive boy in school) stood at one end of the gym – and slowly and very intentionally pointed his index finger – and through the sheer magnetic power of his grammar school social status – silently commanded the adolescent foursome pairs to split in two – not unlike Moses with his staff causing the Red Sea to part for the people of Israel. It was at the other end of that gym that I sat with my back against the wall. Above the din of these Swatch Watch-wearing preteens, Chip pointed at me and roared: “I want to dance with you!”
To this day, I struggle to fully describe the initial wonderment and enormity of being really seen for the first time by every kid in that gym – and my great joy at being included in the dance. Those jubilant feelings were quickly dashed when Chip qualified his public pronouncement with “… because you are the only girl I haven’t danced with.” Holding back tears, I sat down and sat silent – resuming my place on the wall.
For the Chip’s in this community – our community and business leaders – your informed and thoughtful words, decisions and actions genuinely matter to removing needless barriers and creating significant and varied opportunities benefitting and enriching not only those with disabilities but the community as a whole. For the person on the wall – the disabled individual who may feel marginalized – they can tell you better than anyone how very empowering it is to be seen, heard and valued, to be able to contribute to and participate in the life of this community, to live as independently as possible and to reach their potential.
AWS Foundation, through its grants to amazing nonprofits in this community, through the FINDER program, and through strategic partnership with our affiliated organizations, namely, Benchmark Human Services, the AWRC, and AWS Holdings – educates and empowers – helping to take diversity from a meager, static measure in time – to inclusion as an achievable, flourishing investment in everybody’s future.
Shall we dance?