What’s David’s deal? He’s the CEO of The League for Disabled People in Baltimore, which created its own nightclub (among many other things for its members).
His drink: Hazelnut coffee
My drink: Coffee with cayenne pepper (that's my jam)
Random topics that came up: Polar Bear Plunge, implicit bias, MacKenzie Scott, white privilege.
“Welcome to Club 1111,” David said to a young man who had just gotten off a bus outside the club. “What’s your name?
“Billy,” he responded.
“And where are you coming from?”
“Cumberland,” Billy responded. The city was two-and-a-half hours from Baltimore, so this was a major time investment for Billy.
David thought the conversation had run its course, but Billy wasn’t finished.
“And I’m here to meet a woman.”
Like most visitors to Club 1111, Billy is disabled. Club 1111 exists just for people like him -- a once-monthly “nightclub” that gives them a chance to come together, dance and socialize.
David’s the CEO of The League for People with Disabilities, which holds the event in Baltimore once a month - or held, since is committed to providing the “opportunity to gain independence, increase self-sufficiency and to improve the quality of life.” I reached out because I loved the idea.
To many (including me), a certain quality of life is usually a given. And I don't think about disabled people's quality of life in that way. Who doesn't want to connect with others, to have fun, maybe even dance? I don't think about it often, but I did when I talked with David.
"Disabled people are people," he told me as we sipped our coffee. "They happen to have a disability. You need to see the person.”
That kind of tautology -- "disabled people are people" -- usually isn't necessary unless the underlying point is being missed. In this case, it all too often is. David was gently admonishing us all that we can forget that the disabled have the same human needs we all do. Connection. A break from the usual. Fun.
Club 1111 is, like almost everything else these days, entirely remote. The League still holds virtual clubs once a month, and they get people joining from all over. It’s not the same, of course, but David’s committed to finding those people -- those moments -- that are the reason the club exists.
At a recent virtual Club 1111, The participants and volunteers will dance or hold up signs. David features them as they catch his eye, highlighting the people who are excited or embracing the moment. As he scanned, he saw one woman moving -- it was only her arm, waving back and forth. She was dancing.
Just a person, doing her own dance. David brought her to the middle of the screen, so everyone could see her.
Fact about David: He was the first ever male graduate of American University’s Nursing School.
Fact about the world: According to the CDC, 26% of people in the U.S. are disabled in some way.
Want to feel good? Check this out.
Several years ago, I was meditating on a bus in Boston.
(What can I say? Not exactly a Zen garden, but I was trying to maximize my commuting time.)
Meditating helps to center me, and even a little bit helps. And given that meditation can look remarkably similar to sleeping — which was common for morning commuters on said bus — I fit right in.
When the bus stopped and everyone started get off, I stayed seated and reveled in my faux-serenity. I guess my meditation face does not belie a serene connection to the intricate web of life, though, because one of my fellow riders stopped and cocked an eyebrow at me.
He was probably in his thirties and was wearing a Celtics cap and a bulky, oversized coat and was holding an orange. It was a bleary winter day, so the fruit seemed out of place a bit. It stuck with me as a colorful emblem of what was about to happen — a citrus semaphore for the moment.
As he was standing in front of me, he reached his free hand out and angled it up a bit, as if asking for a sideways bro-handshake.
Puzzled, but a prisoner to reciprocity, I took his hand. We stayed like that for a second. I looked at him, and he at me.
He nodded and said: “So… are we going up?”
He wanted to help me stand up. I guess I looked exhausted rather than blissful.
I said yes, and he pulled as I stood. He nodded at me and walked off the bus.
That moment came to me again recently.
I can’t remember the last time I helped someone like that.
Someone who didn’t ask. Someone who might have given me a furrowed brow and a dismissive, distrustful look. Someone I didn’t know but acknowledged anyway.
It’s been a while since I took a chance and reached out to a stranger.
I get it: Right now might seem like the worst time ever to do that. Especially in the same way, as out hands are essentially petri dishes attached to our arms.
But I think we need something. Especially now. Because I keep thinking about what that stranger said to me.
Are we going up?
It doesn’t feel like it.
Divided and distant as we are, it doesn’t feel like we’re a “we” right now. And whatever trajectory we’re on, it doesn’t feel quite like “up.”
But I feel like there’s an opportunity.
Several years back, I had a project called A Drink with a Stranger. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: Combining refreshment (often boozy, but not always) with an unlikely conversation. Learning about what drives people, what inspires them, the stories that helped shape who they are.
I’m writing a book about the experience now, so I’m reminded every day of how important and surprising it was to me. Of how much these fleeting connections meant to me, and how much they meant to the strangers I drank with.
So I’m bringing it back.
At a time where everyone is apart, I want to have a drink and talk about things that matter with people I don’t know. Via Zoom, at least for now.
To reach out. To drink. To hopefully laugh and share something with someone just for the sake of it. To connect, at a time when I think we *all* need it.
First drink might be an Old Fashioned… with an orange slice for a garnish. And the first toast? “To going up.”
A shout out to a stranger who took a chance and reached out.