A confident voice.
"Hello, my name is Nancy Bonazza ..."
With those simple words Nancy began her welcome to the audience at the Ruth Ryan Meyers conference yesterday. I was flooded with emotions. At first I thought that it was because of what I knew of Nancy and the speech that she held in her hand.
As Vita began planning the Masters series of conferences it was decided that people with disabilities that we serve would be involved, visible and present. When the call went out to Vita's self advocate group for representation at the conference and for someone to welcome and someone to thank, Nancy and Mark came forward. Each willing to do their part to make the event a success.
The day before Ruth arrived Nancy, who works at head office, called me and asked for a few minutes of my time. I wasn't busy at that moment and was curious what Nancy wanted to talk to me about. She came into my office, sat down and handed me a piece of paper. On the paper was her speach that she had carefully written out. "Do you think it's good?" she asked.
She had done a remarkable job, I made a couple of small suggestions, she thought them through and agreed and then her speech was done. Nancy told me that she was nervous about the speech but that she was looking forward to the day.
When Ruth arrived at the office, I called Nancy in to meet with her. I thought that meeting Ruth would help relax Nancy as she wouldn't feel like she was welcoming the audience to meet a stranger. Ruth, being Ruth, put Nancy at ease immediately and I was glad they'd had a chance to talk.
And now here she was, Nancy, in front of over two hundred people carefully and confidently reading her welcome. I was teary.
It was only later that I realized that my emotions weren't simple pride at another's accomplishment. It was deeper than that.
During the day OMNI television showed up and filmed a bit of the conference and interviewed Ruth, Manuela and Nancy. We switched on the television to catch the broadcast. As it was in Italian we could only understand what Ruth said but we caught the drift of the segment. When Nancy first appeared and I saw her name, Nancy Bonazza under her picture while she was being interviewed I had the same flooding of emotion that I'd had that morning.
I didn't understand it.
Until I woke up, in bed, a couple of hours ago.
I remembered being taken, as a lecturer/tourist by a woman who was hosting me to do a presentation in the United States to visit the cemetary that was attached to the huge institution outside of town. The gravestones were odd, they had a huge number and underneath the number was a born date and a died date. I looked at my host with the question in my eyes.
"The number is their casebook number. This was done so that families wouldn't be embarrassed to have a relative discovered in this graveyard. It was their final violation."
To have names.
To belong to a family.
To be part of a culture.
This is part of the great journey that people with disabilities are on. I remember working for an association for community living, back when they were called associations for the mentally retarded, and being told that we couldn't submit a story on one of the individuals served to the newsletter because their photo and name was barred by the family. They wanted no images published of their child and no mention of their child's name in any kind of publication.
Death by censorship.
But there stood Nancy.
In front of two hundred.
In front of the television camera.
With 5 words "My name is Nancy Bonazza ..." she advanced the cause of disability.
It was more than pride I felt.
It was deep, deep gratitude.