Being here, has been a dream of mine since I was a newly formed disability activist in my junior and senior year at The Evergreen State College. Most of my conversations back then consisted of me raising my voice to the explain the injustices that the disability rights community faced. My friends liked to joke, "next time we see Jess, her fist will be punching the air, 'DISABILITY!'"
Needless to say, my fire hadn't tamed by the time I entered graduate school. In fact, it expanded and rose higher. Searing and sharp. During the first semester, a nondisabled classmate asked if nondisabled allies could belong to disability culture? I answered by bringing my fist down on the table and declaring, "No." While my fire had expanded, my perspective hadn't.
Fast forward two years...
I was working at a fast food restaurant as a cashier and dishwasher in a small town in New Hampshire. It had taken me several months to find the job. I had considered it, "my last resort" (I'm ashamed of such thinking now. Out of all the jobs I have ever had, my time in fast-food work has taught me the most). Despite my efforts to continue to find a "real job", to advance myself, my world was becoming increasingly smaller. Yet my understandings of the world and people began to grow. Even though I felt I was growing there was critical piece missing in my life. For a year and five months I was completely cut off from the disability community. My cell phone, a thin tether to the culture and people I loved.
I knew where I wanted to be, but didn't know how to get to that place. I had exhausted my knowledge of how to get from point A to point B.
In many ways my journey to D.C. was a gamble. I had absolutely nothing to lose, so when I came across AAPD summer internship opportunity (via google), I rolled the dice. What was one more time? I hadn't expected an outcome. That in many ways, was what the world of employment had been teaching me for the better part of two years. But the workforce wasn't factoring in my fire every time it rejected me. Admittedly, it had become a quiet fire, but a fire nonetheless. I watched those dice roll for miles--for days--and when they finally landed I sucked in a breath. And I stared at those dice, until the point of seeming rude, but I continued staring. I couldn't help it.
Luck was on my side. AAPD was on my side.
Today I'm writing from DC. Five years after my initial desire to work on disability issues in DC. I'd like to think that I am a more poised activist, that this opportunity came at the right time.
So, what is being an AAPD intern like? Well, I won't tell you everything, I'll allow some surprise for future interns, but I will say that it is an experience unlike any other internship. You'll be introduced to individuals, who will later make you say to yourself, "Did I really just meet him or her?!" And you can reply, "Yes, yes I did." The speakers that AAPD provides are tremendous, well-known, and forgive my lack of professional terminology...COOL!!! Take advantage of the first weekend to get to know the metro system. This is also the best way to bond with your roommates. Trust me, if you can survive the metro together you can conquer anything together. Plus, you'll find out important things about them, like how they are fantastic beings. My favorite part of the internship is the reminder of the strong nature/force that disability represents as community, culture and identity.
It is important to know that AAPD is invested in ensuring great opportunities for PWD. This internship is the beginning piece, the platform.
Everything that I will do this summer and all of the knowledge that AAPD provided during the orientation, gives me a foundation. While the platform/foundation is great. My goal this summer is to create ground for myself.
So far, my dream has become my reality. And I intend to keep living it. I'll take my chances.