It’s hard enough dealing with the day -to-day struggle of being a woman, disabled and black in America. Try watching the world systematically fall apart piece by piece while being a woman who is disabled and black in America.
I am not one to complain much about any situation that I find myself in while rolling through this crazy thing we call life, but damn, can a sister catch a break? This year started off wonderfully. It was a new year, we had a new house being built, my medications were working and helping me get stronger. It gave me a positive outlook for things to come. Then came this mysterious, fast-spreading virus turned pandemic called COVID-19 that lit the world on fire.
Many people had the luxury to not pay much attention to it. They got angry when things began to shut down and slowly pondered about what would happen next. I, on the other hand, was taking everything seriously, listening to every word, theory and new update. I drilled my husband and the kiddos on germ avoidance and decontamination practices. I watched the world close off to me and shrink to the size of the confines of my home. Autoimmune diseases preclude living dangerously.
My husband and I are news watchers. The morning news, news at twelve, world news tonight, evening news and even the overnight news. Can you know too much? We watched the COVID-19 numbers skyrocket around the world. The days were starting to run together and the numbers of the sick and dying and dead started to jumble together.
Then, when George Floyd died in Minneapolis, millions of men and women, young and old and of all colors, took to the streets to make a change in our society. It made me want to step into the street with my mask on. I wanted to raise my hand as far up as my illness would let me and say, “enough is enough!” I would have loved to shake the hands of so many young people who were in the streets, on the front lines and speaking out for fairness and justice. This same group of young people that many have previously said that their generation is lost and vapid.
Then, when violence erupted over the protests, my husband saw the conflict in my eyes and face. We have been together for so long he knew what I was thinking. He then told me that if those folks in the street were willing to clash, they would have no problem knocking down a woman protesting in a wheelchair. Realizing he was right, I set my sights on contributing any way I could. I donated money and supplies to the wars on two fronts. The fight for health and eradication of the coronavirus and the fight for equality, fairness and a more perfect union.
When you are quarantined, you have time to really think about things. With the whole country focused on the death of George Floyd and a deadly disease, you start to feel a deeply embedded need to act, to do something, to make a difference. Then, you remember that this disease you have, this wheelchair you use. The worse coronavirus gets, the more in jeopardy I am and the closer I get to using a ventilator.
This struggle for equality and understanding of the precious and invaluable truth that all humanity matters and is priceless manifests in my life through my melanin, my disabled status and my gender. An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all. Being classified as disabled has shown me the inequality and unfairness of a world and country largely more mobile than me. Since I have been introduced to this new state of living, I have seen and been a target of bias because I am in a wheelchair. This inspired me to begin my fight for the rights of those with disabilities long before COVID-19. Everyday since my birth, being black and a woman in America has strengthened my “struggle” muscles every time I have been looked over, passed up, left back, blocked, slowed down and hindered in my quest for success and happiness. So, although I can’t show up at a hospital and volunteer my services and time or stand tall for my beliefs in a crowd of like-minded Americans (as is our right), I can continue to strive for and achieve excellence by being a strong black, healthy, active, activist woman making the most of how one person can effect change in a constantly changing world.
About Merlisha Henderson: Merlisha lives in Arizona with her family. As a wife, mother and disability advocate in her community, she stays active and independent, working toward bringing equality and access to all. Click here to learn more about Merlisha.