The Facts of Life!
I LOVED that show. And this year, at our annual fundraiser event at work, Geri Jewell (aka Cousin Geri from the Facts of Life) was our keynote speaker. Every year we have a Power Dinner, for members of the community and supporters of IndependenceFirst to come out to raise money for our organization and hear a keynote speech from a celebrity from a disability.
I'm not a big celebrity person. I don't read any of those magazines. I feel like for the most part, if I were to see a celebrity, I don't have anything to say really. But I guess famous people can be pretty exciting. Admittedly, I did follow Vanilla Ice around Grand Avenue Mall in 1992 and try to talk to him, calling him "Mr. Ice." He was visibly annoyed with me and had them shut the gates down in the store while he tried on shoes. And I waited in line to meet Tommy Page in 1990 to shake his hand (mostly because he sang with the New Kids on the Block.)
The one celebrity I did meet and get all flustered about was Leonard Cohen. He is my first child's namesake and his music was all that was on as Tad and I were falling in love. I got to shake his hand, tell him that and show him a picture of my own Coen. That was pretty cool.
So yesterday, when Geri Jewell came, I thought it would be nice to meet her. Her portayal of cousin Geri on a favorite show of mine, was not my first experience with a person with a disability. But it was my second time seeing someone with a disability on TV. Linda on Sesame Street was first. Geri was so funny and real and I think it helped me further understand that disability is nothing to fear, that it is a natural part of life. Our good family friend Larry used a wheelchair and my mom's friend and colleague Sheryl was blind. My lab partner in biology had CP and I didn't know yet that I was going to be working some day as an advocate, but I knew that all of these individuals were cool people.
But all I wanted to do when I met Jeri Jewell was sing her the Facts of Life theme song. I still know all the words. That and the theme song for Punky Brewster are my two most favorites. I was teaching in Cudahy when she arrived so I missed her initial visit and tour. But as she was in the lobby, ready to leave, I went out there and did it. She sang the ending with me.
Last night, she gave an awesome speech at the event. And what she said at the end was that Cerebral Palsy and Blindness, Deafness, Using a wheelchair, having learning disabilities, etc.. are not the real disabilities. The real disabilities are hatred and violence, prejudice and ignorance and injustice. Those are the real disabilities.