Freedom is found in the most unlikely places

In 2018, CoCo ran the first Equality, Diversity and Inclusion School Symposium (EDISS). We had 180 people (120 educators and 60 learners) attend for 2 days of workshopping around EDI within their schools. On Day 1 we designed a portion of the workshop for the learners to tell their stories on why EDI is so important to them, and how their identities are included/excluded within their schools. It was an immensely powerful session for all involved! We had one young woman, Holly Heinzelmann, who has a physical disability share her story. Holly recently reached out to CoCo with an essay she wrote on "EDISS: Moments that Mattered in Her Life". It is extremely powerful and we wish to share it with you all.

"Freedom is found in the most unlikely places" by Holly Heinzelmann

My eyes darted up and down the line I sat neatly in, and then quickly panned the hall of eyes in front of us . “It’s me soon…” I thought, anxiously twiddling my thumbs in my lap, and daring not to look up. I didn’t know this would be a turning point in my life. I had thought, when they had asked us to share our stories, that the sharing would take place, one-on-one with the orchestrator of the event. I had been part of a survey for his thesis once and had come to know Roy’s comforting looks as you poured your heart and soul out to him – for research purposes. “No problem…” I had thought.

That was about ten minutes before they called the six of us, who’d agreed to help, to the front, to sit in a line on stage, and only then did I realise that I would, in fact, be telling my life’s story to a hall of 160 people – most of whom were teachers…

Throughout my life, I have allowed myself, on sleepless nights with the cover strewn haphazardly over my body, to lie in bed staring at the orange haze of the streetlamp (which often seeps through my blinds in the small hours of the night) and indulge in my wildest fantasies about what I would say to a captive audience about my life, if ever given that chance. This was that chance, and everything I had ever dreamed up in a sleepy daze, had impolitely abandoned my mind in the moment I needed it most.

The echoes of the claps for the person before me rang in my ears and before I knew it, I was wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans and standing up rather shakily. I knew that my first line had to engage my audience – and in hindsight – I could have done much better than muttering out “Well, as you can see, I have a physical disability…” but it happened because my mouth was working much too fast for my clumsy brain.

What happened after that first line is a blur, and while I remember bringing up stories of teachers who told me they ‘knew’ I learned slowly and how fighting for disabled parking spaces with able-bodied people is and will always be the bane of my existence, the content of my speech didn’t matter in the end.

When I handed back the microphone in exchange for words of comfort and encouragement from the host and sat down, my blood was pumping so rapidly around my body that I buzzed as though I’d had three cups of coffee before 11 am.

I quickly realised that the buzzing was not from the anxiety of being a nervous speaker, as it had been in the beginning, but rather the absolute euphoria of knowing that I had just had ten complete minutes to say my piece on how the world, and you, and me should and could change for the better. It was exhilaratingly freeing.

The intense excitement was accompanied by the equally blazing epiphany that this sort of thing was how I was going to change the lives of people like me. A switch had suddenly flipped. I had finally found my voice. Perhaps I’d have found it sooner if it hadn’t been hidden in the one thing I used to hate talking about most.

The initial story that sparked the change in the way I saw my role in society gained me the opportunity to tell it again, and at this stage I have said it twice for the same reasons I did before – to tell the world that I (and others like me) deserve a voice and space in a world that often shows and tells us we do not. My voice has not hidden itself since that day: it screams in the letters I write, the stories I tell and the questions I ask. Without that pinnacle moment, I would not be who I am today. My little voice will one day be the beginning of a revolution.

Roy Gluckman