Anyway, one person got up and chided the City Council that when an adult from the group home runs out into the street and gets hit by a car, it will be their fault. Another person dramatically waved at her baby (who perhaps,lucky for her was not disabled, but probably will be as a result of growing up with that mother, at least attitudinally) during her remarks about how it will be dangerous for her daughter if mentally retarded people live in the neighborhood. A man stood up and related how the group home developer had told him not to make eye contact or say hello to the residents because they will not leave you alone. I would hope a group home developer would have better sense than to say something like that which could hardly help but inflame the fears of the persons having homes around the group home. Next a woman spoke up wondering where the churches and religious people of the community were on this issue. That the community needed to be more accepting. A speaker from a state agency spoke about group home regulations, and in some ways added to the irrational fears rather than allying them. A mother of a man with disabilities spoke from her experience and hoped that a man like her son would be accepted by the community.
At that point I was called on and went forward with two of my friends who were adults with developmental disabilities living in group homes. Joyce is a woman with higher cognitive abilities and Josh a man with lower abilities in that area. Joyce told that she worked at Baker's Restaurant and her recent trip to Las Vegas to see Tom Jones, and I described Josh's work at an adult day care center. Anyway, I introduced them, spoke briefly about the fear of the unknown, how when families have a child born to them they are suddenly struck with the discrimination of the community (of which they may have been a part in the past) and expressed my desire to get into the face of the group home developer about his comments regarding not interacting with the adults who would live in the group home. I was reminded of the statistic that says that many adults with developmental disabilities only know one person without disability in the community and many none. No doubt the warnings of people like the group home developer fuel such lonliness. It also made me wonder about the fitness of the developer to have group homes if he was that misinformed about who persons with mental retardation are. I concluded my remarks (3 min) by saying the reason that he probably made the comment about not interacting is that the adults would try to develop a friendship with their community neighbors. At that point, Susan Peppler, the Mayor of Redlands graciously commented that they would be good people (the group home members) to develop a friendship with, or something to that effect. The audience applauded briefly, and Josh became very animated, making the "raise the roof" gesture. The audience loved it and we left.
Obviously the church is not responsible for every societal ill, and cannot cure everything. But I couldn't help but wonder how the discussion might have changed if the church had had a greater presence in the community toward persons with disability. I particularly wondered in a city like Redlands, where there seems to be a church on every corner.
"O man, He has declared to you what is good. And what does Jehovah require of you, but do do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)