Reflections, Aspirations and Appreciations

Reflections, Aspirations, and Appreciations

Brandon Brown, Executive Director

I sit here in my office, looking at the white board across from my desk and pondering all that I’ve written under the headings of “plans,” “dreams,” and “needs.” I can’t help but think to myself, “How did we get here?” And I’m quickly reminded that of my last three years of service as the leader of Empower Tennessee, 2018 was our finest year; and our actions have placed us in the position we find ourselves in today … the position of empowered, engaged, and impactful community leadership.

2018 began with our newly hired Programs Director, Paul Choquette, championing a grant application to the Neilsen Foundation to provide assistance in obtaining automobile hand controls and related training to people with spinal cord injuries (SCI). Paul, who experienced an SCI at age four, knew first-hand the levels of independence gained via access to hand controls – which aren’t typically covered by insurance and can be expensive. He wanted to see others to experience that independence; and thus, Controls4Control was born. And we’re pleased to announce that we were awarded funds to support the program’s startup and serve twenty people through October 2020. As part of this project, we’re partnering with Pi Beta Phi Rebab Institute at Vanderbilt for clinical assessment and driver training as well as Mobility Works for equipment and installation. We’re hopeful to expand this program to those without SCI and to include more advanced equipment – so, stay tuned for future announcements.

Another exciting event last year was our first ever Youth Leadership Academy, titled “I Am Who I Am … And That’s Cool!” We had nine young people with disabilities from around Tennessee complete the two-day program that included presentations on self-advocacy, disability rights, employment, assistive technology, and disability pride … not to mention lots of fun and social interactions. Our partner was the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities – specifically, Ned Andrew Solomon. Together, we empowered youth to forge new paths and become leaders in their own lives and communities. We were thankful to have Second Presbyterian Church and the Frist Art Museum as hosts. As of this writing, I’m excited to share that plans for our 2019 Academy are underway; and we’ve added STEP, Inc. as an additional partner. We’ll be announcing dates, location, and application details soon – so don’t miss out!

We celebrated the 28th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26th with an event at the Frist Art Museum – one of Nashville’s most accessible venues. We welcomed guests from all around Middle Tennessee to rededicate themselves in their own communities to speak up and advocate for inclusion and accessibility as our human and civil right. We also presented Gerald Christian of Murfreesboro the Floyd Stewart Every Day Hero Award for his embodiment of independence, advocacy, and kindness. Stayed tuned for more on the 29th Anniversary event. We’ll be adding a new award and will need your help in making nominations.

In other access news, we began a partnership with Blue Path to enhance our Access Music City program to post business accessibility information on the web. We conducted community trainings on how to use the accessibility evaluation tools; and we are now able to survey more than just restaurants. A new mobile app is coming this year; and we’ll let you know when it’s ready to use!

Boundless 2018, Nashville’s only inclusive fashion show, had another year of success. Over 30 models of various size, shapes, and abilities (including yours truly) strutted the runway in looks from local designers and reminded our 200 attendees that fashion can empower people to let their light shine. Our partner in Boundless, Fashion Is For Every Body, will be taking the event and making it their own. We, at Empower Tennessee, will be developing a new signature event for 2019 or 2020 that will be inclusive, accessible, unique, and fun — just wait and see.

I could truly go on and on and on and on about all that 2018 had in store for us and the community we serve – from our continued partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools to the over 500 people who received work-related benefits counseling through our Benefits to Work program – our skills training classes as part of the Metro Parks Disabilities Program to the engaged and sassy members of our Empowered Ladies group – it seems never ending. And because there’s so much that needs to be done, we will continue to maintain and grow our efforts to accomplish our mission to empower people with disabilities with opportunities for choice, inclusion, and independence.

Lastly, I would be remised if I didn’t take a moment to praise the staff and Board of Empower Tennessee. Our staff are the ones who place in this position of success and possibility. Their humanity and passion for the work shines through each day as they empower themselves and others to be their best. Our Board has also empowered me to lead the organization in ways that are true to our vision and values. I’m proud to be part of Empower Tennessee and of the work we’ve done, are doing, and will do to advance the Independent Living Philosophy throughout our community. Here’s to an empowered 2019!

P.S. Here’s our question for 2019, “How do we (you) empower?” Feel free to comment below, send us an email, or post on social media to let us (and the world) know.