Sunday, June 3, 2012
Posted by Torrie Dunlap, CPLP
What an inspiring week this has been! I am on the east coast for a couple of events that have really fueled my passion. I came to Connecticut this weekend to help Unified Theater celebrate it's 10th anniversary. If you don't know Unified, you really need to check it out. Especially if you are involved in a high school or middle school in any way. Unified Theatre promotes meaningful inclusion and student leadership through the arts. And in my whole career I do not think I have seen inclusion practiced so thoughtfully and intentionally. I attended a performance at Conard High School in West Hartford, CT on Friday night and what I saw was pure magic. Almost 200 high school students onstage together performing scenes they created and singing and dancing to both pop and Broadway songs. The magical part was seeing the joy in the kids performing and witnessing the deep relationships that had been developed between kids with and without disabilities and from all social segments of the high school population. This is a student-led process, and the kids are trained to see each other's abilities and to use unique strengths in the creation of the show. This is what made it so entertaining- to see everyone's strength emphasized. Seeing and hearing the kids spontaneously erupt in cheers for each other when they did their part well was very heart-warming. Too often we hear stories of bullying, and this was an evening of witnessing several hundred teenagers embracing their differences. If you want to learn more about Unified Theater "like" them on Facebook where you can follow the growth of this wonderful non-profit (as I said at their fundraiser last night and board meeting today- there is no reason that Unified Theatre should not be embedded in every middle and high school in the country). In between the Unified Theater events this week I had time to drive south to Waterford, CT to Camp Harkness (beautiful place!). One of our dedicated KIT board members, Sandy Rosenberg, invited me to attend a celebration of the lifetime achievements of her aunt, Phyllis Zlotnick, who passed away in October. Phyllis was a tireless advocate for disability rights, and I was very moved by hearing of her achievements at the ceremony. She did a lot of legislative work and advocated for many changes, but it was her work on the National Council on Disability (she was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986) and being a part of the group that crafted the Americans with Disabilities Act that she called her greatest achievement. In January of 1998 President Clinton gave her the Medal of Freedom. I felt so inspired by Phyllis' work, and also grateful to have Sandy as a board member, continuing her family's legacy of promoting inclusion and access for people with disabilities. I wrap up my trip tomorrow in Baltimore where I will be meeting some great people who want to make sure that children in Maryland are meaningfully included in after school programs. What a nice combination of experiences to remind me of how far we have come, and also how much work there still is left to do.