Later today, Rachel and I are headed to Washington DC, arguably my favorite place. We are headed to the National Down Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk on Washington. We are honored to be a part of all aspects of the program from training others to participating in training and awards ceremonies. We are most excited to get to visit Rachel’s “friends” Congressman Yoder (R-KS), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS). She sees them as her friends and I think they see her as a friend. I know the office staffs see her that way. And that is how it should be.
Friday night I had the great and humbling honor of sharing at our church ladies’ conference, Stories: Living, Loving, Sharing. I have many stories. My friends all say you can’t make up the things that happen to you, Jawanda. So when I was invited to share at the ladies conference with the topic of “This is My Story,” I was a bit bewildered. God delivered me at last-minute, which is not my style, but as always He was faithful.
As I thought about sharing my story I thought of two very distinct stories from my life. The first took me back to Mt. Hebron Baptist Church in Joy, Arkansas. Joy is the tiny little White County community where I grew up. I heard my grandmother, Mr. Dalton, Ms. Maudie and Mr. Ernest singing “this is my story this is my song” and other great gospel hymns from the time I was a little girl until they time they all went to be with the Lord. I suspect they were singing together Friday night. Growing up in Joy, Arkansas in the 60’s and 70’s was about as different as growing up or living in Johnson County, Kansas in 2015 as you can imagine. Our community was an average farming community. There were not “rich” people. People worked hard. I was a writer with a vivid imagination from a young age and I wanted to go places and see the world. Through the vehicle of the 4-H Youth Development program, I got my ticket to go on trips and to learn how to do most of what I have done as an adult. I learned how to speak, run a meeting (task master than I am), raise money, asked anyone for anything, work hard and work together. I also went on my first trip to Washington DC and fell in love with the whole advocacy thing. We even called the Hogs on the U.S. Capitol steps. WPS!
As I said Friday night, I heard the words of Isaiah 6:8 in my teen years, “Here am I. Send me.” We all have a calling or several and we will all have a story. No story is insignificant. I have also always wrestled with God because of my big mouth. Oh yes for the obvious reasons but also because there are a lot of days I don’t want to be the voice. But I heard my call early. “Jawanda, you will be the voice of those who won’t, don’t or can’t.” I didn’t know then what that would look like in my life. And I’ve spoken for many who won’t, don’t or can’t but when Rachel came along my calling took me a new direction.
Fast forward to the past eight years. It has been our story and the stories of many others around this country that have been told in efforts to pass the ABLE Act. It has been the leadership of people like the late Steve Beck and Sara Weir, NDSS President, who answered the call to lead the charge. It has been people like Brad, Sherri, Kelly, Joe, Amy, Debbie, Sara, Rachel and many, many more who answered the call to make this world a better place for people with Down syndrome. It has been through these combined efforts, this great advocacy that this great piece of legislation was passed.
So today we go back to Washington DC to teach, to learn, to celebrate and to advocate some more. Last year when the ABLE Act was signed into law, I told my contacts in our legislative offices that they just thought they would be getting rid of me because I would have something new to talk with them about. Actually, it’s not new. I’m staying the course because I want Rachel and others with Down syndrome to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. I want Rachel to get to live her dreams. Rachel Mast says her life is amazing. She still wants to live in that Pink House. Jobs, post-secondary education, keeping students safe, research funding and strengthening elementary and secondary education around the country are just a few things we have to keep working on. So here we go again.
And this is why I advocate!