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Letters For Jerika: Showing Up for Jerika Bolen

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Over the past month, I have been following the story of Jerika Bolen, a young disabled teen who has made the decision to end her life due to living in incredible pain from her disability.  Jerika’s story has lit a fiery discussion within the community about assisted suicide, and the choice she has undertaken about her life.  

Jerika is a Black disabled teen, and as someone who is adamant about the quality of life and experiences of Black disabled girls and women, I wanted to do something to reach out to Jerika.  What I came up with was to write Jerika a letter about my experiences as a Black disabled woman, and to let her know that she’s not alone.  I shared my idea on Facebook, and got a positive response.  What developed was the “Letters For Jerika” campaign, which launched over the weekend.  This campaign will allow Jerika to gain access letters from disabled persons who desire to share their personal accounts about living with a disability, and give her the opportunity to steadfastly know that she is not alone.

The campaign has gotten support from members of the community, and I am looking forward to us stepping up and becoming the village Jerika needs.  The campaign will go on until Monday, August 22nd, 2016.  

Below is the mission statement of the campaign, and ways to participate.  All of this information can be found on the Letters to Jerika Facebook page, and through the hashtag #LettersForJerika.  

Mission Statement of the “Letters for Jerika” Campaign

Over the past month, our community has been passionate about the decision of Jerika Bolen, a 14 year disabled teen who has decided to undertake assisted suicide due to the intensive pain she experiences with her disability, Type 2 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).  Our community has many feelings about assisted suicide, all which should be heavily considered when policies about the issue are being discussed by politicians.  

For me, Jerika’s story struck a significant chord because she’s a Black disabled girl, and I am a Black disabled woman.  Some of her statements about feeling different resonated with me, and caused me to reminisce about my teen years.  One thing that popped into my head was whether Jerika knew of any disabled adults in general, disabled adults with her particular disability, and specifically Black disabled people like me.  

When it comes to the last group, does she know that she has a village of Black disabled women, particularly, she could get to know?  Has she seen empowering and positive examples of adult Black disabled women who have skyrocketed past their teen years, proof that the struggles she’s facing in adolescence won’t last forever?  That there are Black disabled women and disabled women of color out here waiting to bond and create an incredible sisterhood together?  Does she know that she would be fully embraced by those like myself?  

When I see Jerika’s story, that’s what troubles me the most – does she know that she has a space where she can feel vindicated and empowered through those toughest of days?  Has she been given access to our voices, that states that Black disabled lives are worth living?  

Those thoughts are what prompted me to brainstorm how I could reach out to Jerika to let her know that she has a community, a village.  A community that will support her, uplift her, and can relate to what she has endured in her 14 years of life.  

With the “Letters For Jerika” campaign, I want disabled people, especially Black disabled people (and specifically Black disabled women) to share with Jerika their stories about how we have lived and thrived in a world with bodies, minds, behaviors, and actions that are misunderstood by society.  Let’s come together and show Jerika that we possess, reclaim, and demand worth, value, and autonomy.  We can show up for Jerika by making sure she knows we are here, and are willing to be a part of her village.

These letters are not to condemn or shame Jerika – they are to let her know that she’s not alone.  There’s a community that understands her without a word having to be uttered.  We will be her village, and share what we have learned while living within these disabled bodies.  With our stories, we hope to help her navigate through her own journey.

 

There are three ways to participate in the “Letters For Jerika” campaign:  

1)  You can mail your letters directly to Jerika at the following address that has been provided:  

Jerika Bolen
PO Box 2577
Appleton, WI 54912

2)  You can create, write, and share your public Facebook statuses, blog posts, videos, etc., regarding Jerika’s story.  These public sharings can relate to what you want her to know about living with a disability, and proclaim that she possesses a powerful voice that is greatly needed in our community.

You can tag this page in whatever you post on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc,), and use the hashtag #LettersForJerika

3)  You can send your letters to the email created for this campaign:  lettersforjerika@gmail.com.  

With option #3, an official letter about the campaign, with the link to the Facebook page and the Gmail address and password, will be sent to Jerika.  In addition, 10-15 letters will be physically mailed to her by the organizers of this campaign.  All letters will be sorted in Google Docs so that Jerika can read them at her leisure, and hold onto the responses for however long she wants.

 

We do ask that everyone do keep the purpose of what they write in mind – we’re here to let Jerika know that she’s a member of a powerful group of people, and that we got her.  

In Solidarity,
Vilissa Thompson

Any questions, press inquiries, additional comments can be sent to the administrative assistant to the campaign, SD Cramer, at sd.crmr@gmail.com.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Mike Mort.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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