Dear Disability Advocates and the CIL Community,
Happy anniversary! March 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of the Center for Independent Living (CIL), also known as TheCIL. Fifty years ago, a band of disabled advocates and their allies came together in Berkeley to start what would become a movement for inclusion, independence, and equity, which would grow to reach around the world.
This is my first communication with this community since joining TheCIL’s team two weeks ago. During this time, I have had a chance to contemplate the story of our beginnings and how it relates to our future. These thoughts have reminded me of my introduction to this historic institution.
In December of 2011, I visited the Center for Independent Living for the first time as the new Statewide Community Organizer for California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) to meet with CIL’s Systems Change Advocate. This was the first Independent Living Center (ILC) I visited in this new job, which was not lost on me because it is also the first Independent Living Center (ILC).
As I passed through the doors, there was a flurry of activity. Staff with disabilities served disabled consumers, and disability advocates and their allies met to plan the following stages for the disability inclusion revolution. I sat down for my meeting, and before we could finish our introductions, the program manager rolled up with genuine curiosity and welcomed me with an arm bump. Next, the Executive Director asked me to join her in her office with an eagerness to meet me. The advocate and I then met about launching a public transportation accessibility campaign which would define much of my work as a disability advocate.
This experience made an impression on me about TheCIL’s commitment to disability-driven advocacy, independence, and community living. It defined me as the ideal image of an Independent Living Center. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to support this center’s community and staff as Executive Director just a decade later. I am honored that the Board of Directors decided to put their faith in me to lead this meaningful and memorable organization. I am also aware that it is my job to earn your faith and partnership now.
CIL staffers carry a banner reading “Center for Independent Living Berkeley” through the streets of San Francisco.
Over the next several weeks and months, we will have plenty of chances for meetings, discussion, and evaluation. We will address some complex issues, such as increasing our capacity to achieve expected program outcomes that meet the needs of our community, expanding Independent Living initiatives, venturing into the community more for new outreach opportunities, and re-opening offices with pandemic safety measures – while maintaining remote connection options.
We will also work together to improve the accessibility of our processes and programs for staff, volunteers, community members, and, most importantly, ILC consumers. Accessibility is a lifetime commitment to the disability rights movement that is an essential factor for outreach and inclusion. Being accessible also means being available to welcome and serve our community.
We will work together to live up to the vision of our founders and the needs of the individuals and communities we serve. We will be intentional that these efforts are intergenerational, intersectional, help to multiply marginalized persons, and are disability-driven.
We can’t do this without you. As I began this letter, this year is our 50th anniversary, and it’s time to get the band back together. Please watch out for opportunities to join in programs at TheCIL and help with planning the anniversary celebration – details to come. Your collaboration is eagerly welcomed!
Last week I spoke with a disabled leader who helped build the independent living movement. She reminded me that while services are essential from the beginning, advocacy held this organization together and kept it moving forward. I promise that systems change advocacy will take a vital role in all our efforts and be our north star guiding us to success.
After all, this year, we will also be celebrating:
- the 52nd anniversary of the Rolling Quads’ advocacy to create the first curb cuts in Berkeley
- the 45th anniversary of the 504 Protests
- the 39th anniversary of the signing of the Rehabilitation Act
- the 32nd anniversary of the passage and signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act
- the 23rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision.
All those accomplishments were a result of disability-led advocacy. Ed Roberts’ call to action said: “advocate, advocate, advocate!”
Let’s make this year one that we and those who came before us can be proud of and that those who come after us will recount as a model to follow.
Happy Anniversary and Lead On,
TheCIL – Center for Independent Living