In a speech in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a simple question: “How long will prejudice blind the vision of men?” He answered the question by saying, “How long, not long” and told the gathered marchers that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Now more than fifty years later, as we assess the impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, we have indeed seen change. With the recent Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage equality, there clearly has been progress towards equality in America. However, for all the improvements that have been made, this is no time to declare victory. There is so much more that needs to be improved upon and accomplished. For those who continue to face discrimination based on the color of their skin, their gender, disability, or sexual orientation, the answer “not long” is outdated and regressive. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves another question: “What can we do to step forward towards building a society where no one feels the effects of unlawful discrimination?” More specifically, “What can we contribute to society to bridge the gap of social injustices?”
As the cofounder and CEO of a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities, my mission is to help them fully integrate into society. As proud as I am of what has been accomplished, I am keenly aware that discrimination in employment, housing, and transportation still exists. Every person deserves equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness NOW. We do not want to wait any longer.
We must believe that if “everybody paddles, at the same time, in the same direction, towards a common goal,” we will unite and achieve real changes in perception and policies. We are only as good when we unite our beliefs and actions as a society. We must work together and coordinate all our different strengths and talents collectively - not divided. We must be inclusive, open-minded and empower ourselves and others to reach their fullest potential. With our commitment, we can forge ahead more quickly toward real change.
As we move forward, I accept the challenge to resist complacency of past achievements and continue to act with urgency to assure that “not long” actually becomes “now.” In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and for all of those still disenfranchised, it’s time to rededicate ourselves to the noble purpose of building a society with equal opportunity for all, not tearing it apart with hurtful words and incomprehensible actions.
We must set the bar of kindness, mindfulness and inclusion even higher. The THRIVE Network has evolved to commit to our mission: we want every person we serve to thrive at their fullest potential.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990, but the fight for equality started long before then. It’s passage was the culmination of years of efforts by families, social justice organizations, and countless others who recognized that justice demands protection of the rights of the disabled. Twenty-seven years later, justice now demands that we act collectively and decisively so that “how long” will not be any longer than necessary.