When I first heard about the new program, I was psyched beyond measure. The place where I was receiving physical therapy had set up a gym in part of their space, and they were inviting people who received services to work out at a reduced rate. After going over my budget, I signed up. Although I wanted to get my core stronger, which was going to help with my transfers, my primary goal was to figure out a way to bend my knees. Doing the latter would mean that I could get myself back into my wheelchair if I ever fell, and if I could bend my knees there would be a greater chance that I could put my socks and shoes on by myself. Bending my knees would mean more independence for me. Once my membership dues were all paid, I signed up to work out for the first time. Transportation was arranged. I was working on getting into the “athlete” mindset before I left on the designated day when the phone rang.
Since I was in a different part of my apartment at the time, I listened to the message a few minutes later. “Hey, Lorraine. This is xxx from yyy therapy program. I noticed that you signed up to work out in our new gym tonight but we have a policy against people with disabilities working out by themselves, so I am canceling your appointment. Have a good day…”
What? Was this a joke?
It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to work out on my own. Various weight machines were the same I had used in high school. In my workout, I hadn’t planned to do anything I wasn’t certain that I was capable of. I had signed the same liability release that everyone else did but it wasn’t enough. Unless I had somebody with me, I was told when I called back, I wasn’t welcome to use the facility. And nobody had mentioned this policy before they had taken my money. There wasn’t even a conversation. I had simply been informed that I would not be allowed to do what I had paid to do because I had a characteristic that was beyond my control. This wasn’t the first time I had experienced true discrimination, but it does not get any less degrading or dehumanizing over time. Injustice leaves you with an emptiness that is cold, heavy and hard to carry. It’s like a broken heart that you just can’t mend.
The letters I wrote the therapy place went unanswered for more than two months. They ignored me until I mentioned I was considering contacting the Lawrence Human Rights Commission because this policy was illegal under the American’s with Disabilities Act. I got my money back about ten weeks after I got the phone call telling me not to come. But the refund didn’t make me feel better. To my knowledge, the policy has never been changed. Situations like that one occur in my life to varying degrees at least once or twice per month.
For the last few months, I have been trying to process and figure out how I feel about the movement started by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 about athletes taking a knee during the national anthem. I don’t believe their doing so is disrespecting the flag or what it represents. In fact, I read that Kaepernick began kneeling instead of sitting during the anthem out of respect for the military. A quote in my Facebook feed recently put it like this: “Saying that athletes kneeling during the anthem are about disrespecting the flag is like saying that Rosa Parks didn’t sit at the back of the bus because she was protesting public transportation.”
Instead, I believe that by kneeling during the national anthem, these players are calling attention to the fact that America today is not what it was intended to be. The America that the military is defending is not supposed to be riddled with racial inequality. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence clearly states. “All men are created equal…” It’s a principle this country was founded on and yet not every one of its citizens is treated equally.
I will never know what it is like to be a person of color who fears for my safety during a routine traffic stop. I will never know what it is like to be persecuted for my religious beliefs or be the target of a hate crime. But I have experienced discrimination and been in the presence of people many times who whole-heartedly believed that they were better than me and they, therefore, thought it was okay to treat me “less than.”
I would not wish those things on anyone.
Do I support Colin Kaepernick and all the other athletes who choose to “take a knee” during the national anthem? You bet.
Because when I had an opportunity to work on bending my knees, it was taken away from me.