Non-Magic Carpets To Success

Continued From The Previous Post . . .

Marian Wright Edelman
By CDC (PHIL #8416)
(Obtained from CDC Public
Health Image Library.)
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
"If you see a need, do not ask why doesn't somebody do something, ask why don't I do something. Hard work and persistence and initiative are still the non-magic carpets to success for most of us."

Marian Wright Edelman, Civil Rights Activist and Lawyer, spoke these words during the commencement address at the Washington University in St. Louis on May 15, 1992. I was present when she delivered that address.

Before departing on March 23, the Go Team advocates asked me to attend their hearing. I apologized, explaining prior professional commitments prevented this. None of the advocates persisted, but I realized the invitation was not a mere formality.

Thus, I endeavored to rearrange my schedule. Murphy's Law, however, took the upper hand. Despite several phone calls and a visit to the court house that day, too many logistics and not enough time stood in the way. Nevertheless, various people returned favorable reviews about each adult's testimony. I was honored to have contributed to this successful outcome.

My communication continued with Ronnie, the Go Team Sponsor. The honors ceremony remained on the horizon. Therefore, I met the Go Team on May 18. Before meeting, I researched themes and speaking styles.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with 
Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr.
Whitney YoungJames Farmer
By Yoichi R. Okamoto [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons.
Knowing the Go Team advocates yearned for freedom, I studied I Have a Dream by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Additionally, I learned about the history and personal experiences of those who have bravely struggled for freedom and equality.

Furthermore, I researched the structure of compelling speeches.

The most effective speech structure involved describing the harsh reality of life today, proposing a remedy, and contrasting life today with dreams of a more perfect future. Accordingly, it seemed to me the Go Team advocates would make the strongest impression by describing life today in the Developmental Center, and contrasting this with descriptions of the future life each advocate dreamed about when the Developmental Centers will finally be closed.

We prepared for these speeches similarly to the way we prepared for the Task Force testimony. Speaking with the advocates heightened my awareness of various things I take for granted. For example, freedom means the ability to choose how to spend one's time. One may go to the mall, to the beach, or for a bike ride at one's leisure. The advocates, however, are not free to make these kinds of choices.

Freedom includes choosing the people with whom to associate and socialize. In the D.C., however, the advocates are not free to make these kinds of choices. Freedom also means responsibility, like the responsibility to hold a job. At the same time, freedom means having the option to choose one's occupation. Life in the D.C., however, does not include those liberties. Without completely dismissing the general reasons for these restrictions, my discussions deepened my own appreciation for the many freedoms I enjoy.

I found out the ceremony was scheduled to take place on June 21. The Go Team would be competing for the attention of legislators who would certainly be thinking about the end-of-the-month deadline for the State Budget. Even though this decreased the likelihood that the advocates would be able to deliver their complete speeches, we remained undeterred.

Asm. Louis Greenwald & the Go Team
State House, Trenton, NJ
June 21, 2012
On June 21, the road these advocates had been traveling lead to the State House in Trenton for the honor ceremony. Although I had joined them on their travels only a few months earlier, I considered it an honor simply to attend.

Positioned before the Assembly side by side with Assemblyman Greenwald, each adult glowed with pride.

As anticipated, time did not permit the adults to deliver the prepared speeches. Instead, each advocate improvised, and delivered brief, impromptu statements of gratitude. Despite the size of the audience and the stature of its members, not to mention the anxiety the men and women had expressed before the ceremony, all the advocates spoke serenely.

The Go Team sponsors thanked me many times for my service. They have told me these mentally handicapped men and women with whom I worked could not have done this without me. Personally, I wonder what I really did. I had always believed these men and women would exceed all our expectations.

The Go Team, Sponsors, & Michael Smolensky
State House, Trenton, NJ
June 21, 2012

Moving Mountains

. . . Continued From The Previous Post . . .

New Lisbon Developmental Center
New Lisbon, NJ
Having added the March 23 meeting to my calendar, I began to prepare. The Go Team and I were to meet at the New Lisbon Developmental Center. In the days immediately before the first session, however, I learned that members of the Go Team had been invited to testify before the New Jersey Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers (Task Force).

New challenges accompanied this new circumstance. The Task Force, I soon found out, had been formed to evaluate and provide recommendations for closing the Developmental Centers. But I did not know what the Task Force actually hoped to gain from the testimony of these adults. Internet research, a few phone calls, and persistence provided clarity. Based on this, each advocate worked with me to prepare for the hearing during the March 23 meeting.

Naturally, the apprehensive adults wondered whether I, a complete stranger, was going to tell them how to testify. Making certain immediately to dispel this concern, I explained the Task Force needed to know their personal experiences. I proceeded to described my two-fold purpose.

First, I intended to help each adult organize their personal ideas for the Task Force. And second, I intended to assist each advocate with techniques for delivering these ideas at the forthcoming Task Force hearing. Each team member easily came to understand my goal was to help prepare the team to testify both honestly and credibly.

To prepare for the testimony, each adult engaged me in one-on-one interviews. Aware of their anxieties, I knew a formal question-and-answer session would not have yielded authentic answers. Instead, the interviews took the shape of a casual conversation.

Each advocate's comfort progressively increased. I observed each adult move from a protective and guarded posture where they wondered about what I may have expected them to say, to comfort characterized by openness and a desire to share. As we spoke, I noted the comments and thoughts each advocate expressed.

After completing each interview, I read my notes aloud. This reinforced my objective—to help each advocate testify as to their personal experiences and opinions. Similarly, it mitigated any concern whether I might dictate the content of their testimony.

As with any speech, the advocates needed structure for the purpose of effective communication. Therefore, I organized the notes into sentences, grouped the sentences into paragraphs, and formed the paragraphs into an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Additionally, when an advocate struggled to find the right word for an idea, I made recommendations. As before, each advocate reviewed the testimony with me for accuracy. Finally, each advocate had an opportunity to review the structure.

After reducing the testimony to writing, I coached each team member with speaking skills. Knowing each adult was to testify before a Task Force, I assisted the advocates with articulation, vocal projection, pace, eye contact, and the placement of pauses. Most significantly, each advocate practiced smiling. After all, this was to be a landmark occasion. To reinforce the importance of smiling, each advocate repeated exercises that involved relaxing and smiling.

At the end of the session, each advocate grinned. I later learned each advocate testified persuasively before the Task Force. This made me feel both proud and honored, as though I had helped these adults move mountains.

Concluded Here . . .

Go Team, March 23, 2012
New Lisbon Developmental Center
New Lisbon, NJ

Simply Kismet

State House
Trenton, New Jersey
By Marion Touvel [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
On June 21, 2012, an honorary ceremony at the New Jersey State House brought me to Trenton. Majority Leader of the Assembly Louis Greenwald presented a group of mentally handicapped adults with a proclamation.

Known as the Go Team, which stands for "Get Out!", these adults advocate for the closure of Developmental Centers in New Jersey. Their efforts to promote public awareness, drive discussion and debate, and stimulate social change garnered this special recognition.

About four months earlier, in the middle of winter, I first learned about the Go Team. Just as I had not previously heard about this dynamic group, I was also unaware of the political issues surrounding the closure of  Developmental Centers here. All that changed, however, when a volunteer opportunity came to my attention.

One of the Go Team sponsors, Ronnie had contacted my club, the Moorestown Area Toastmasters club. Ronnie sought Toastmasters to coach the Go Team in public speaking. With discussions already underway between the Go Team and government officials about an honorary ceremony (i.e. the one that ultimately occurred on June 21), Ronnie wanted to prepare the Go Team advocates to speak publicly on the occasion.

To say weighing the different aspects of this opportunity took no time may be slightly inaccurate—but only slightly. It is absolutely fair, however, to say it took next to no time. During a previous chapter of my life, I earned a Masters of Science in Education. Although I had aspired to teach special education, other professional pursuits took a front seat. Even so, I remembered certain fundamentals of education.

From an objective perspective, for example, the ability to learn requires the ability to imitate behaviors. Additionally, learning is within every individual's ability. Thus, the educator's task in simple terms is to model behaviors, and to reinforce the imitation of those behaviors. The student demonstrates mastery by consistently and correctly performing the target behaviors. Educational theory, however, was far from the heart of my decision here.

It was the opportunity to coach these mentally handicapped adults in public speaking that resonated strongly with me. This confluence of circumstances must have been, in my personal opinion, more than serendipity. It was simply kismet.