A Wider Vision

In February, 2020, a few weeks before we were to hold our Gifts of the Heart Gala Concert and Dinner, I wrote a short speech for the dinner portion of the event. In that speech, I wrote about a new, wider vision, one that went beyond FIN’s vision of helping faith communities to be more inclusive of people with disabilities and urged us to consider a more inclusive society for all people. My thoughts led me to one of the most well-known leaders of our modern time, Martin Luther King, Jr. I began to write out my own dream, a dream of not only of a more inclusive society for people with disabilities, but a more inclusive society for everyone.

I recently came back to that speech, tucked away in my computer, and realized just how relevant it is right now. Although in the first days and weeks of the pandemic, I assumed these words would never be shared, I feel compelled to share with you now. As leader of Faith Inclusion Network, I hope to convey a deep love and respect for all persons. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, their abilities or differences of any kind, we are all equal in the sight of God. FIN stands not only with the disability community, many of whom have experienced marginalization in their faith communities and in other parts of society, but with people who are black or brown, fighting for their rights, tired of being treated as less than, trying to protect their families and friends.

So, I have dusted off, edited and share the following; intended for a Gala we have yet to reschedule, but maybe meant for a time such as this.

Many blessings to you all!

-Karen Jackson, FIN

A Wider Vision

“Last December, 2019, I attended an inspiring one-day workshop in Boston, MA.  I represented FIN at the Interfaith Summit on Disability Inclusion held by the Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization that supports some amazing inclusion work in their Boston community and around the country.

The keynote speaker was former congressman from California, Tony Coelho. He played a significant role in getting the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, to pass back in 1990. He shared his moving story of having epilepsy and not being able to achieve his original dream, as a young man in the 1950’s, to become a priest. Because of his epilepsy diagnosis, his life steered him away from ministry and into politics. He is considered by many as one of the main sponsors of the ADA.

Tony Coelho

As Mr. Coelho spoke, and throughout the rest of the day’s presentations, a thought blossomed in my mind.  By the end of the conference, my take away was crystal clear: Cast a wider vision!

I had ample opportunity to reflect on this idea because of the snow that provided an extended layover in LaGuardia. I sat myself down in the terminal and began to write in free-form, letting my thoughts spill onto my notebook.

As the minutes and eventually the hours passed, I kept coming back to that wider, more inclusive vision. A vision that is radical yet obvious, outrageous yet simple. What we need, I thought is a Martin Luther King type vision; a vision that recasts society’s expectation of what it means to be inclusive of all people. People who learn, think, behave, communicate or move in ways that aren’t considered typical. People who are black or brown, fighting for equality, people who have a different sexual orientation, people who have not been treated with respect. Why? Because we are all created equally in the image of God. We are human. We are unique. We all need to strive to love and value each and every person.

I then began to write some of my own dreams, respectfully borrowing the format of Dr. King’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.

  • I have a dream that my family and friends, regardless of abilities, ethnicity or sexual orientation, never have to feel alone, isolated by the barriers of attitude, hopelessness or fear. I dream that they are never afraid to leave home for fear of being excluded, hurt, or simply ignored. I dream that all who have felt marginalized by society find a place where they belong and that they are welcomed wherever they choose to go.

.

  • I have a dream that the people of faith here in Hampton Roads, in our country and around the world, rise to their calling to change the status quo, to speak out when they see someone treated as “less than” because of their disability or the color of their skin, or their economic status, to make it their mission to be a friend, to offer their love and support, to love their neighbor as themselves.

 

  • I have a dream that one day, when I am gone, that my daughter Samantha and others who do not have a voice, will be embraced by a community that loves them for their uniqueness. I pray that one day all people will be accepted and cared for without having an advocate by their side, constantly having to monitor and work on their behalf.

 

  • I have a dream that you, whether you are affected by disability or not, have been the recipient of ignorant and hurtful racism or not, have been made to feel less than for any reason or not, will help us build our Hampton Roads community into a region that is a beacon of light. Help us be an example to the country that there is a better way, a way paved in love for all people, a way fueled by faith and intentional in our desire to be inclusive of all people.

I ask you to take this message and share it with your faith community. Share it with your businesses and your organizations. Share it with your friends. Let’s take this vision…this dream, and work together to make it a reality. Because the vision to be an inclusive community will only be realized with everyone’s contribution.

Let’s get to work.”

Author, Karen Jackson with daughter Samantha

Blessings to you as you work to re-enter your workplace, school, faith communities or any other aspect of society after this time of social distancing and quarantine.

I pray we move ahead as a community towards understanding and equality for people affected by racism and exclusion due to disability or any other kind of difference. Be well, stay safe and know that we can all make a difference.