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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Owning Our Stories Event Connects Storytelling, Empowerment, and Employment

By Jaggar DeMarco, NCIL Summer Intern

Owning Our Stories Logo - Supported by a grant from the HSC FoundationOn June 8th, over 40 people gathered together in the back room of Potter’s House, a community space and café in Washington, DC for the sole purpose of empowering people with disabilities through storytelling. Hosted by NCIL and supported through a grant from The HSC Foundation, the Owning Our Stories open mic night was the first event of its kind to connect storytelling to individual empowerment and finding employment.

While the setting of the room was simple, four off-white walls with a single tapestry in one corner and a handful of disability rights posters illuminated by a string of draped lights at the back of the room, what happened there was quite profound. A group of individuals with disabilities proudly shared their stories, both original works and meaningful written pieces, to the audience. There is rarely a space designed specifically for embracing one’s identity as person with a disability, but this evening did just that.

The presenters represented a cross generational intersection of advocates in different parts of their careers. The group of diverse speakers allowed the audience to hear a wide array of stories.

The night was hosted by Allie Cannington, Youth Transitions Fellow at NCIL and the individual behind the Owning Our Stories concept, and MCed by Lawrence Carter-Long, a local disability rights advocate and Public Affairs Specialist with the National Council on Disability. Carter-Long kicked off the night’s storytelling with a preview of his upcoming radio piece on the takeover of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia by a group of disability advocates. Cannington shared Laura Hershey’s powerful poem and disability anthem, “You Get Proud by Practicing” to honor the love and legacies of Ki’tay D. Davidson and Stella Young. NCIL’s Executive Director, Kelly Buckland, spoke about his experience as a person with a disability in college before the ADA and how a single person got him interested in disability rights work and changed the trajectory of his whole life. Interestingly enough, the ADA was signed into law on the 20th anniversary of the day of his accident.

Other speakers included Maria Town, Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, and Rebecca Cokley, Executive Director of the National Council on Disability. Their titles didn’t matter that evening, as they each shared personal stories of people that had been instrumental in their growth as leaders in the Disability Rights Movement. Sara Vogler read a powerful original poem. Jeremiah Perez shared his personal story to highlight importance of education and activism in finding employment and personal growth.

As both a member of the audience and a speaker at the event, I was in awe of the supportive nature of the room. Too often people with disabilities feel as if they cannot speak up for themselves. But the Owning Our Stories open mic night allowed every participant to be their truest authentic self.

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