I wasn’t always as keenly aware of just how grateful I should be to Dr. King for his tireless efforts and contributions to the world we live in today. There was a time in my life when I rather ignorant of such things. I knew he was a great man. I knew he dedicated his life to greater equality for all, but I didn’t understand how that affected me personally. I had never really felt the sting of inequality – I still doubt I feel it as acutely as those Dr. King was fighting for, but I have felt it. Having autism in my life changed my views on so many things. It goes without saying that I should have had more appreciation. I’m ashamed that I was that ignorant. But, like most of us, it wasn’t until I lived it that I understood it. Funny thing about an understanding of your struggles, it opens your eyes to the knowledge of the possible struggles of others. Sometimes understanding is the most important thing needed for change.
Dr. King’s trials and sacrifices in the 60s created the dialogue necessary to pave the way for equality for all citizens, those with special needs included. We mustn’t forget that not long ago, most special needs persons were institutionalized. Deinstitutionalization didn’t come in the 60s.. it didn’t come until much later – the 70s – but it did come. There is still miles to go in the area of education for special needs students, but today, I feel it is important to appreciate the progress we’ve made. If you’re interested, you can gather a better understanding of that progress here. Without Dr. King’s contributions, we wouldn’t have these advances. He opened the gateway. He made people stand up and start fighting for equality and against injustices.
Just 50 years ago, my son would have been institutionalized, and all of the horrors that we now know went along with that. He would not have had the right to an education. I would like to believe that with the love I have for him, and my belief in his abilities if we’d lived in that time that I would be doing what I am right now. I’d like to think I’d be teaching him and reaching him on his terms – but the beliefs in those days make me wonder if I’d have understood enough to fight the system.
Dr. King’s life and example not only gave us what he fought for – equality – but so much more as well. Through his example, he’s given us all the courage to keep on fighting, to keep on trying, and to keep on striving for understanding, for ourselves and for those we love who aren’t as able to fight for themselves.
When he said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals”, he could have been speaking directly to so many parents that I know and admire. Those who see the potential in their children and work tirelessly to harness it within them, and help others to see what they see. He could have been speaking to so many children I know who get up every day and work towards their potential, struggling to fit into the world when they’d much rather stay lost in their own. And, he could have been speaking to me, reminding me that even though it can get a little rough, the road to greatness is rarely simple. Greatness requires one to keep on pushing.. keep on keeping on, but that we’ll get there.
I don’t know what my son will ultimately contribute to the world but, I know he will make a memorable contribution. And, I know that today, he gives so much more than he takes. I am so thankful to live in a world that, for the most part, sees that, and in one that allows him the opportunity to figure the rest out. Dr. King, you are the reason for that, There are no words to thank you. So, today, I honor you and your life. And, thank you in all the ways I know how. Thank you.