You know when you hear the story of an event over and over, or tell the story of that event as an example or to support your point over and over, but you have never actually met any of the players involved.
And then you meet one of them.
Meeting the person you have talked about for what feels like your whole life, having that person is right there in front of you, it’s a weird feeling.
If the reason you tell the story is highly significant to your work or culture or personal interests, but not to people in general, it’s hard to explain to the “uninitiated” why you are so excited to meet a person they may never have heard of. They just don’t get it.
It’s like trying to explain a meme to your grandma.
So, this happened yesterday:
If you do not know who this is, you should. It was a moment where two of my great passions, Deafness and the Law, came together.
This is Amy June Rowley.
I have said her name and told her story easily a thousand times in classrooms and court rooms for the past 20 years.
Now, like I said, if you don’t recognize the name, as an interpreter or a member of the Deaf community, you should. Take a minute and read this.
I’m an advocate. I was born that way. My mother encouraged my journey down that road. This case has always made my blood boil.
I disagree with the decision. I disagree with the reasoning for it.
But, I have always loved the idea of Amy Rowley. She has always occupied the same place in my mind as Linda Brown (who recently passed away).
I can’t think of one without the other. Proud and strong little girls standing up before a system that is ultimately unfair to proud and strong little girls who stand up to the system.
When I thought of Amy Rowley I saw this iconic image in my head:
But now I will see this:
I will see a brilliant and strong woman who, unlike Linda Brown who was vindicated by nine white men, was disappointed by nine hearing justices but did not allow that moment to define who she is.
That is the most important thing I learned from meeting Amy Rowley, Board of Educ. v. Rowley, is part of her history but is not who she is.
That is when Amy Rowley changed in my mind from a character in a story to a real live hero.
Amy June Rowley is a hero not because she and her parents stood up against impossible odds and lost. Amy June Rowley is a hero because the best revenge is a good life and she has done just that!
She is a proud and strong mother who is Deaf of proud and strong children who are Deaf. She is a hero because “Dr. Amy June Rowley is the Coordinator of the American Sign Language Program in Modern Languages and Literatures department. She completed her dissertation in 2014 in Second Language Education in Urban Education from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee which focused on American SignLanguage Advanced Studies Programs: Implementation Procedures and Identifying Empowering Practices. She holds a professional level certification inAmerican Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA). Her research interests are systemic and hierarchal structure of American Sign Language programs in postsecondary institutions; and relationships between students/interpreters and the Deaf community. She has published articles related to Audism, oppression and special education experiences. Prior to coming to Cal State- East Bay, she was the coordinator of the American Sign Language Program at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee for nine years” (from her bio).
Just as the Supreme Court had the chance to clean up its own mess in Plessy v. Ferguson with its decision in Brown v. Board of Education it took a positive step in redeeming itself for Board of ed. v. Rowley with is recent decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County.
It’s nowhere near enough, but it’s a start.
If you get a chance to attend a lecture or presentation by Dr. Rowley don’t miss it. Afterward please shake her hand and let her know she is the hero we all need. Not because she stood up to injustice and was knocked down, but because she got up and became the person she is without the permission of history.
That is what a hero does.