We Will Not Be Silenced

Anja H., Staff Writer

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I felt the cool leather against my cheek, my eyes already drawn to the words on the front of the book. My Journal. Never had I seen such a wonder. Eagerly flipping through the blank pages, I lost myself into the clean blue lines on the crisp white paper.

Mommy crept in wordlessly, “Do you like it, Kathleen?”

I tore my eyes away from the journal and looked up in bewilderment. “Oh Mommy, I love it!”

“ I’m glad, darling. You can use it for writing assignments that I give you.” In fact, let’s start now. I want you to write about your life as the extraordinary girl you are.”

“Thank you Mommy,” I say, blushing.

She smiles and says, “I’ll leave you to write in peace then. Call me if you need anything!”

I breathe an excited little sigh and open up to the first clean page.

March 29th, 1977

Dear Journal,

Oh, I’m so excited to be able to write those words! I’m Kathleen and I’ll be your best friend. We’ll tell each other everything, ok? Can you dig it?

Here, I’ll start: I am 14, a regular rad teenager. It’s awesome to be me! I am a total book nerd. I have so many groovy books in my room, it’s sometimes hard to tell where the bed is!

I have spina bifida. I also use a wheelchair and can’t move anything past my waist. I am also homeschooled because there are no public schools that I can get into easily because I have a handicap. I badly want to go to school near my home but Congress won’t let me because they haven’t implemented the IDEA act that was signed 3 years ago. Those jerks.

The closest school that has classrooms that I can get in and out of with my wheelchair, and bathrooms that I can use is two hours away by bus, and just over an hour by car. Going there would mean that I would be on a school bus for four hours a day, or Mommy would be driving for that long, just so I could go to school.

So I have school at home. Mommy teaches me English & Social Studies while Dad is my Mathematics and Science tutor.

So Journal, do you want to see your new home?

My room is on the 2nd floor of our 3 level home. Carrying me up and down the stairs is a lot of work for my parents, but they don’t seem to mind it. Anyhoo, in my room, I have a narrow twin bed with a gray plaid cover lying parallel to a small porthole window. If I look through it, I can see some of California. Next to my bed, I have a white nightstand filled with my favorite books; it’s a bit of a knockoff of my large wall shelf also full of inspiring and informative novels. Just above my Classical section on my bookshelf is where you lie. I hope you like your new mini-room. I really like having a best friend!

Catch’ya on the flip side Journal,

Kathleen

April 7th, 1977

Hey Journal,

Guess what? Oh do I have a surprise for you! Mommy is letting us go to the sit-in. Isn’t that awesome! Earlier this morning, Mommy pulled me out of bed and said “Alright, you win.”

“ Win what?” I asked, a hint of a smile edging across my face.

As you well know, I had been begging Mommy to let me go to the sit-in for days now, ever since I heard about it on my radio before I went to bed a couple of nights ago. I wanted to go SO BAD. Now I can!

“You can go to the sit-in. I think it will be good for you,” she continues, a bit of worry creeping into her words. Her faux excited voice doesn’t throw me but I play along anyways. “YES!” She chuckles softly at my enthusiasm.

“Come on Mom, Let’s go!”, I urge, not wanting to waste a second.

“Let me go get your father,” she said, trying hard to hold a genuine smile.

As my father carries me down the stairs, all I think about is the protests. “Think about how exciting this will be, Journal,” I say loudly.

“Who (grunt) are you (grunt) talking to (grunt) Kathleen (grunt)?” Maybe carrying me is more work then I realize.

“ No one, Dad.”

The car ride is smooth and peaceful, so it was no surprise when Mommy called out, “Here we are!” in what I swear is no time at all. As Dad unloaded my chair, I turned to stare out the window and WOAH! I see tons of people in wheelchairs or not sprawled across the neighboring sidewalk and blocking all entrances to Secretary Califano’s office.

Dad lifted (and grunted) me out of the car and into my chair. I look around wondrously.

“Hi, Are you here for the sit-in? I’m Judy Heumann and I organized this event!”

I look up, startled. “Yes, I’m here for the sit-in.”

“Great! Let me get you a shirt.” She pumps her wheelchair and rolls away.

The late afternoon sun turns to dusk and I fiddle with the neck of my protest shirt. I am starting to get worried. Are we expected to just stay here? When do we get to go home? “Mommy,” I say.

“What Kathleen?” Her voice has not been smooth and lilted like normal, but brash and reserved. As far as I know, she only acts like that when she’s angry at Dad for spending money on “the new and latest saws” when he should be conserving our cash.

“Are we going home soon?” I ask, my breath hitching in my throat.

“Kathleen, you said you were ready for this!” She sounds angry and I don’t know why. I don’t spend money on saws!

“ I am ready! But you didn’t answer me!”

“Kathleen, if you had paid as much attention to the radio as you said you did, you would know that these protesters do not intend to leave until the bill is signed. Now that you are one of them you must do the same.” Her anger is raw and unflinching. Though I want to send a quick retort, I refrain, knowing that will only make her angry.

“You’ve made your bed now you must lie in it.”

I bite my lip and stare at the ground, not wanting to say another word…

I’ll catch you up soon,

Kathleen

April 17th, 1977

It has been ten days. Ten days since I’ve bathed, had a good sleep, or had real food. I am still at the sit-in. We have expanded past each entrance and we are crowding the entire block. I am as tired as a workhorse, but nobody else seems to be. We chant and chant, not moving even when the police officers threaten to jail us. Some members of our group have been arrested. Judy and I don’t think that they are actually in prison because it isn’t accessible.

I swear she is like a grown up me. In fact, I have 2 friends now, you and Judy. I look up to her for everything. Judy and I are becoming good friends. I’ve even led the chant with her a couple of times. I have also seen Judy and Kitty Cone (another organizer) handle the tons of people from various other groups (Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, The NAACP) sending nonperishable food our way. I guess I should be grateful that we get food at all, with the way the officers look at us (like us protesters are dirt that they have to get off the back of their hideous black boots). In fact, the cycle of the day is over, but our work is not. I shift around in my chair, hoping to catch a couple winks of sleep, but it is futile. I join the chants of my group and smile. This is where I’m meant to be.

I’ll keep you updated,

Kathleen

March 12, 1990

It’s been almost 13 years. I am truly shameful. I remember how happy and scared I was when I finally got to go to a mainstream school. Sure I fought hard at that sit-in FOR ME, but I stopped afterwards. I didn’t fight, I wasn’t active. I am ashamed.

Today I have a chance to change that. My boyfriend Liam, who has autism drove me from San Diego to Washington DC! Why?

Today, there is a “Capitol Crawl.” People with disabilities are crawling up the Capitol’s stone steps to GET THE ADA PASSED!

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is the big thing. The work and activism so many others and I have done were the stepping stones that lead up to this huge climb.

“Come on,” Liam nudges me, “we gotta go!”

“Ok.” I say, grasping his hand for comfort I square my shoulders and bend down, putting my weight on my hands. The pain I feel from balancing is nothing like I’ve felt before. The Capitol steps are made of unpolished stone and at one point I even scrape my hand slightly. The blood slowly runs down the palm of my hands, but I persist. I slowly continue climbing, huffing every so often, but I keep moving. I am no longer the 14-year-old that was so naïve. I am fighting, fixing my mistakes, finally “standing” up! We finally make it. Pushing and shouting got the attention of one security guard, who’s badge reads “Robin W. Greene.“

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to leave now“

“Why?” I say. If I’m going to amend or (try to anyway) my mistakes, I guess I’ll go all out, right?

“Ma’m, go!” he says.

“You didn’t answer our question. Why?” I’m starting to get irritated.

“ You are disrupting important governmental work.”

“Mr. Greene!” I am smoking mad now.

“Yes?”

“Do you know what’s important governmental work?” He’s speechless. I’m on a roll now, so I decide to keep going. “Passing the ADA! So shut the heck up and go oppress someone else!”

“We need rights!” says Liam, coming to my side.

“We need rights, we need rights!” What had started as a low grumble has spread throughout the space and the entire group is supporting our mantra.

Still chanting, we slowly back down the stairs, and out of the Capitol. A warm feeling has started to spread through me, as I contemplate how lucky I am to be able to make a difference in my world. No matter big or small, nothing will change unless we force it to.

I will not give up! Liam won’t give up. Mom won’t give up. Dad won’t give up. Judy won’t give up. None of us will give up until we have the rights we need!

This seems like the right way to end an entry, as another day of activism has come to an end.

I’ll see you later,

Kathleen

April 7th, 1991

Time is a fickle and fluid thing, ever-changing and never staying the same. Can you believe it’s been 14 years since the sit-in, and since I received you, Journal, as a gift. Liam and I are on the type of Access Living’s green roof. Yeah, that’s right, I can go up on the roof of a building. Do you know why; because the building is accessible!

Ok, wait up, what do I mean by accessible? Well, first off there are automatic doors. This means that nobody has to wait for someone to open the door. With a push of a button, I rolled through the door by myself. Once inside, it is a completely level lobby, covered and carpeted so wheelchairs will not get stuck on uneven bumps and crannies in the floor. The elevators are something else! As I roll through the lobby, I see at least 5 large elevators lining the wall. Woah!

“Come on, come on,” Liam urged me. “Don’t you want to see your surprise?” he asked.

I laughed, and rolled into the spacious elevator. The ride was smooth and I can’t stop thinking that if the ADA hadn’t passed last year, I would not be able to do this. It makes me so happy that our work paid off. I helped make sure people with disabilities could live as independently as possible and that I helped send a strong message to the world that WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED!

On the rooftop, I think about a lot of things. The 14-year-old naive school wanting girl is gone. Instead there’s a woman who graduated from UC Berkeley with a Political Science and Law degree. She followed the footsteps of Ed Roberts, another advocate. I’ve changed in so many ways. My life is now not defined by only me, but by so many others. now I realize the disability rights movement’s motto is more true to my life than I thought.

“There is nothing about us without us.” I know that means We are in this together until the end, and we will not let anyone define us. Journal, I’m closing you for the last time. I will always remember you.

Love,

Kathleen

Bio: Anja Korovesis Herrman is a twelve-year-old 7th grader with a physical disability. Her hobbies/ obsessions include: Advocating for people with disabilities, reading 24/7, knitting, swimming, horseback riding, and playing The Sims 4. She also enjoys planning her 2044 Presidential Campaign. Vote for Anja!

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