In many ways, Myrtle was years ahead of her time. As a woman with a disability, she was raised in a time in which no one even thought about disability as part of human diversity, much less as anything outside of ‘wheelchairs’ and ‘crutches.’ However, every year, without fail, Myrtle came for ‘Sunday Fun Day’ at Her Power!
Her Power! is an annual event which works directly with girls with disabilities to promote critical thinking about society’s messages, eliminate shame, develop leadership skills and encourage self- acceptance. On the Sunday before everyone leaves, it’s tradition to have Sunday Fun Day- which usually entails team games and somehow ends with lots of CHEETOH’s on your head! As one of the facilitators, I always knew that Sunday Fun Day could begin when I saw Myrtle drive up. She always showed up, ready to get dirty, paint her face and cheer the loudest for her team. It was amazing and I often wondered if her family and friends knew this side of Myrtle. I imagined Myrtle to be the kind of friend that invites people over for tea, but was was sure to have a few cookies on hand. I couldn’t help but wonder if they knew that she annually had CHEETOH’s thrown at her head and laughed hysterically with a bunch of teen girls with disabilities.
I say she was years of ahead of her time, because these were not just your ‘usual’ disabled teen girls. They included girls that have faced some of life’s most difficult challenges, all while living with both visible and invisible disabilities. These girls have lived in poverty, gone through the foster system, experienced racism/homophobia/transphobia along with ableism. Yet, she understood that she shared the disability experience with them. Myrtle later went on to serve as the Chair of the Board of Directors for Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, where she was responsible for hiring an Executive Director/CEO who has an invisible disability herself.
I’ll never forget once receiving a call from Myrtle. She called to discuss some business that needed to be taken care of and shortly after introducing herself in a very professional manner, I responded with, “Myrtle, of course! We’ve spent many a Sunday Fun Day’s together.” She paused for a moment and then a completely different side of her came out. It brings me so much joy to have known this deeply human side of Myrtle. I hope we can all follow her lead in embracing the changes of our world ahead of our time.