The Philly air was hot that Sunday in 2004 while the competition on atleast fifty chess boards sizzled. My guide dog, Lali, and I sat across the table from a man who was rated at least five hundred points higher than me. I should’ve lost big, but I took him to endgame…and drew a crowd!
What? Why would a dozen or so competitors who were finished with their games walk over to observe me play? Oh, right, I’m blind…and I’m sure many of us have heard the laundry list of myths about what we who are blind or low-vision shouldn’t be able to do. While I did lose that game before winning the next three out of four rounds, I first began learning how my hobbies can serve as a form of advocacy.
Maybe, you’re a piano player, guitarist, martial arts competitor, or great traveler in a big city who simply likes to take walks. Any time we step into those arenas, we get to share our dignity with the world at large. No, this isn’t meant to heap pressure on us but to be an exciting opportunity.
Yes, we in the 21st century. Still so many people hold those stereotypes and stigmas that cloud their vision about what we can and can’t do. Unless someone who is sighted knows a friend, relative, fellow church member, or coworker who’s blind, they mostlikely have a lot of questions about our abilities.
So when we play chess against sighted competition, join a public judo or Brazilian jujutsu club, have dinner out with family at a restaurant, or attend classes-we won’t get the opportunity to share the gifts we have. By default, when we strive to put our bold foot forward, people will be curious. They may even stare. They may converse softly with someone nearby about us. They may even find no other words to say in appreciation of our efforts than, “Do you need any help?”. Still that moment gives us a chance to find our voice. We may even have a sotry to tell if the moment’s right.
Yes, such behavior I just described may seem suspicious or frustrating for us to notice. Still the time presents itself for us to rise to the challenge. If you’re fighting in martial arts competition, let that adrenaline flow as you throw your opponent for ipan to the applause of people around you. If you’re playing chess or poker-win or lose-smile or nod your head in apprecation of the bystanders as you make your next move. If you are working out at your local gym and someone compliments you on being such an inspiration, say, “Thank you….” and pump out your next set of reps focused as if no one saw you pumping iron in the first place.
Yes, advocacy in action is the life of navigating the contours we have been given.
Back on that hot Sunday in August, 2004, I finished that chess tournament with 3 wins and 2 losses. I even made a few friends along the way and found a club to attend down in Philly’s Center City. As I left the venue, I thanked the tournament Director, National Master Dan Heisman, for the opportunity to play. I put in some money for the freewill donation that went toward a couple causes he was supporting at the time. Then, following my friend, Joe and his son Donte, I headed for home.