Speech by Representative Rhonda Fields
Good Afternoon everyone. First, I would like to thank Arc and all the event organizers for planning this conference. I applaud Arc of Colorado for all they do and continue to do at no cost to families, children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It takes a special dedicated calling to be a champion for fairness and equal access to justice in our community.
It's truly a pleasure and honor to stand before you today. Because, when I look at each of you, I see a reflection of myself in your eyes. I see parents here today that are making sacrifices for their kids. I see advocates who intervene, community partners that step-up, community organizers, social workers, city officials, and professionals who play a critical role in enhancing the life of those you serve. I see you working hard in the trenches advancing respect and the rights of those with developmental disabilities. Thank you for reaching out and lift other up.
My message for you today is "people first" despite disabilities. People first...despite adversity. People first. As an advocate, you clearly understand that you are Representing the very vulnerable population, who has been stepped on, lied too, cheated on and whose hopes and dream have been deferred. To be a strong advocate you must have a good Jaw Bone and Back bone.
First you must know that you are built for the road ahead. You have already accepted the calling to promote the rights of people with developmental disabilities. You know the challenges and courage it takes to live a life time with an intellectual disability.
So Today, I some recommendations for your to consider for the road ahead as an advocate.
Number One: Professional Integrity
The arch of life is long and People will always remember what you do not what you said. So it is very important that you understand who you are from the inside out!
We live in a world that will try to shame and shape your identity.
Far too often, we are asked to reduce who we are by placing an X in a box. What's your sex (Male/Female)? What's your race (Black/White)?
I don't know about you, but can't be defined by an X in a BOX. A box is good for a pair of shoes or a box of CANDY. But I refused to be shrinked or labeled by an X in a box. I AM more than the color of my skin or my gender. I am a person first. If you have a disability or you are serving someone who has a disability remember, “We are people first.” Don't define a person
by their circumstances or disability. Rule number one: Don't let other people define who you are. And don't let other people's needs, wants or perceptions dictate your choices or decisions.
Recommendation Number Two:
Refuse to fit in a crooked room.
Far too often, when people don't fit in a box, based on a world view of people with disabilities...society attempts to place folks in categories. These categorizes are other people views of what they consider to be "normal" or "acceptable." Their altered views can place people in a crooked room. This room is tilted with negative images designed to keep folks bent to fit the distortion. In this room, many will suffer in silence and tum a blind eye to justice. In this room, we shrink in the presence of other and nod and smile when don't agree. I am very familiar with this room, for me it's a darkroom.
On June 20, 2005 my son and his fiancée where killed, just days before he was to testify in a murder trial. After the murder of my son, I slipped into a room of shame, guilt and depression. This dark room kept me from public places. In this room, I blamed myself for not keeping my son safe. I raised my son to always do the right thing. I walked around in darkness with no sense of direction and saw no way out. It was a victim advocate that punched a hole in my darkness and snatched me out. I didn't get out of my depression alone. It took a community.
For that I thank Carole O'Sade, Aurora Police Deportment, and our DA at Arapahoe County for helping me shake off that pain to pursue justice in the name of Javad Marshall Fields and Vivian Wolfe. I was able to put my grief to work which propelled me all the way to the State Capitol where I serve as a State Representative in Aurora for Arapahoe County. So my friends, when you find yourself in a crooked room...learn to punch holes into darkness, learn to stand straight...get a backbone. and confess your promise not your depression.
It takes courage to cut against the gain and to speak boldly for your values.
Recently, two of my colleagues in the Senate were recalled because of their support of new laws regulating guns and ammunition in our state. As you know, Senate Prescient John Morse and Angela Giron lost their seats, but left with their integrity intact. They stood by their principles against heavy interest groups and parties. "To believe in something and not to live it is dishonest."
So, my question for you today is...what are you willing to fight for?
What are you willing to stand for? What are you doing with your hands?
And how are you willing to use your voice?
Recommendation Number three:
Assert Your Voice and put your voice to work through advocacy.
I found my voice after the tragic events surrounding the murder of my son and his fiancée. It caused me to become a champion for the undeserved and for crime victims. Prior to the murders, I was on the sidelines or margins of society. My grief, my personal pain and suffering gave me voice. Suffering can't speak if you stay silent. That's why I appreciate Arfc of Colorado. They give voice to the inequalities that go unnoticed in every corner of our community as it relates to children and adults with intellectually disabilities.
I applaud Arc for how advanced the bill idea to Blanca the scales of justice for adults with disabilities. I was approached with some alarming statistics about the number of crimes against persons with disabilities. I learned that persons with disabilities are victimized by crime at a much higher rate. Often these crimes aren't reported or litigated. With the support of Arc and other partners we fought to change the law and drafted.
HB1085 - Protecting Developmental Disabled Adults by allowing hearsay testimony when they are victims of sexual assaults. This bill was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by the Governor Hickenlooper.
Find your voice through community engagement and community investment.
Our community needs you, our nation needs you, and our world needs you. Never forget you are a part of a collective.
To be a good citizen you have to do something for somebody else because they're just like you.
We live in an interdependent world and you must never forget that we are a part of a community. You must have compassion for something bigger than yourself. We are our brothers and sisters keepers.
Recommendation Number Five: Be Thick
But Today, I say be thick.
To be thick is to be strong.
To be thick is to transform pain into power.
To be think is to change frustration into freedom .
To be thick is to convert obstacles into opportunities. To be thick is to have a jaw bone and a back bone. Thick people can hear critique without crumbling. Being thick is being commitment to the struggle. Being thick is being courageous.
Thick people don't stand on the sidelines.
Thick people believe that social action can change an entire system of economic injustice.
Thick citizens run for office.
And when you add thickness to voice... you have power and influence
So in Conclusion ---
I want to share with you two definitions that have meant a lot to me in my short political career. One definition is that of leadership:
A leader is someone who can inspire a group of people to achieve a common goal.
The second definition I want to share is that of Friend,
A friend is someone who reaches for your hand and touches your heart.
Today, I empower you to One. Strive to become an effective leader and advocate, and
Two, never underestimate the value and rewards of meaningful friendship. I am your friend...so let's go forth and do the work that lies ahead.
Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere! Be Bold, Be Strong, Be YOU!