The following is a draft for a address I gave to my fellow “graduates” and their families from the Georgia “Parent Leadership Support Program” [which is under the Georgia Advocacy Office].
Let’s get this off the table first: The question is not a good one. Obviously there aren’t people who (should be) valued more or less than another. Some of our nation’s founders even declared as much when they said that “all…are created equal.” I don’t think there is anyone here who would disagree with that. – Society as a whole may feel and react differently, but they’re not here to benefit from our enlightened wisdom, so we’ll move on.
Knowing that “all people are created equal,” as some of our founders put it does not answer a deeper, more personal question for all of us in this room: “Why should we advocate, period?”
I can’t give you a straight answer to that. Each one of us has different reasons that we advocate for others in our lives. Some do it because we have been beneficiaries of advocacy ourselves. Some because it is simply expected or demanded of us. Some of us advocate because we have a genuine care and concern for others. And some of us simply know that it is the right thing to do. Usually our individual reasons will be some combination of these or other factors.
My own reasons come from a combination of these and, more importantly, from my faith. I know I have an Advocate. I know I have been blessed to be a blessing. I know there are others who need my help just like I have needed the help of others. Proverbs 31:8 (gnt) is one of the many passages that guide me, “Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless.” You may have similar reasons you advocate.
But the reason most of us are here is not because we don’t believe in the intrinsic value of all people, nor is it because we don’t believe in the idea and importance of advocacy in general. Instead many here have gone through a class – supported by many of the loved ones also here – because we desire to advocate for a special population in a specific field. Why?
Is it because this population is more vulnerable to neglect and abuse and we can’t see that happen? Probably. Is it because we are angry with the way some people or systems have treated us or those we care about and we want to get back at them? Maybe. Is it because we want others to see what we do in the children we advocate for – as valued individuals – and to treat them with the same respect and concern that they do for others? Absolutely!
I believe advocacy has much less to do with getting helps and services to a child and much more to do with changing the attitudes and hearts of those the child comes into contact with. All the laws, rules, and regulations that the government writes can’t change hearts; they can only change circumstances. They can force compliance and services that can help a child for awhile, but if people can see beyond those measures to the intrinsic value that each person has, the war itself will be won – for the child and for all those who come into contact with the people and systems whose heart has been changed. People will be compelled by their being to do what is right instead of being forced into it.
Certainly there are times when hearts won’t change and children are suffering because of it. For those times we fight for the battle and use the tools we have been trained with. But I believe the ground we cover within the school as well as society itself will best be covered when people can see in all others another person who is valued. All supports and services flow best when they come from respect and understanding that all people are people. Our advocacy is of value because the children are. Because all are.