In Melissa Riggio’s groundbreaking article in National Geographic Kids, she said,
“It’s true that I don’t learn some things as fast as other people. But that won’t stop me from trying. I just know that if I work really hard and be myself, I can do almost anything.
But I still have to remind myself all the time that it really is OK to just be myself. Sometimes all I see – all I think other people see – is the outside of me, not the inside. And I really want people to go in there and see what I’m all about. “
Melissa had the gift of sharing her feelings and soul. In doing so—she helped many others who may feel voiceless. And if you think about her words – they could apply to many minorities or marginalized groups. They could apply to virtually anyone. Doesn’t everyone want to be judged by the content of their character, their personality, and their heart?
That is why the disability movement for acknowledgment, civil rights, and inclusion in society is so similar to every other civil rights struggle. Melissa spoke to Rachel Buchholz, who wrote the article, more than a decade ago. Yet, as I write this, many families are anxiously watching a case in Arizona, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals: G.M versus Gilbert Unified District. The parents in this case have a child in second grade who has been included in general education since kindergarten. He has been making progress. The school district wants to send him to another school, 5 miles away, to a self-contained class, for twenty minutes a day of intense instruction. The child has Down syndrome. The school district is willing to spend the time, money, and resources to make this terribly regressive move and battle. The judge in this case so far has seemed ignorant about what inclusion is. As thousands of students and parents go through the time, and sacrifices inclusion often requires, many of us see inclusion regressing, and anxiously hope our courts don’t regress as well. It is scary. This young child is being judged, by a judge, on his disability.
When we segregate, whether it is by force, self – segregation, or improperly implemented inclusion, in school, workplaces, and life, the people being segregated often lose. They are ‘caught in a ring’. Either on the inside or the outside. It seems that Melissa Riggio knew this. In her lyrics to the song, “The Ring”, (Music / Voice by Rachel Fuller), Melissa wrote:
“I’m in the Ring outside
I’m following my belief
I’m looking at the sky
I saw God following my heart
I’m an ordinary woman. “
That line, “I’m an ordinary woman.”, has haunted me since I first heard it over a decade ago. It is more chilling now that my daughter is eighteen, and I see first- hand the great life her thirty – one year old sister, a successful professional, has. The kind of life many people with disabilities dream of – an ordinary life – a life like yours.
I am so grateful to the Riggios for sharing their life and their stories. This episode three in their series of four, is my favorite. Pete Townsend is a rock legend and icon, respected for decades for his, and The Who’s, vast contribution to rock and roll. I love the glee in Steve Riggio’s voice as he reminisces. This widely respected former CEO of Barnes & Noble is first and foremost a proud husband and father.
That is important for young parents to know. Often they wonder what their young baby’s life will be like because they have a particular disability. I can tell you this. I have asked numerous parents of very successful young adults questions, for years. And every time they say this, “Who would’ve thought this would happen? We had no idea what the future held. We just loved him/her, believed in him/her, knew to keep options open, and always had high expectations.”
Melissa was very determined and confidant. So it is fitting to close with some of her lyrics to “Love Is a Potion” (Music / Voice by Rachel Fuller):
“Love is everything
Love is all around
Love is a potion
Love is passion
Love is devotion
Love is fusion
Love holds deeply inside
Love does not tear apart
Love is a potion
Love is passion
Love never fails
I love both of Melissa’s songs. The lyrics are profound, the music is haunting, and Rachel Fuller has a beautiful voice. You can hear the full songs right here on Melissa’s page at www.bornfabulouspodcast.com
If you remember anything from this blog, let it be Melissa’s words first and foremost. The words of self – advocates are always much more important than anything the rest of us say or write.
“Know me before you judge me.”
“I’m in the Ring outside.”
“I’m an ordinary woman.”
“Love is a potion.”
Thank you for caring.
From my heart,
P/S Please subscribe to Born Fabulous Podcast on iTunes or any podcast directory if you haven’t already. There is a link leading there below. And if you have heard the episodes and like them, please leave a review. You can join my mailing list right here. J