note: In recognition of a great humnaitarian, leader and friend,
we present "The Resurrection of Justin Dart Jr. : A Quest for Truth
and Love," which was written by Mari Carlin Dart and originally appeared
in the Diahann Carroll issue of ABILITY Magazine. Also included are additional
comments from Dr. Fred Fay and Fred Pelka, Justin's Farewell Message and
Disability Rights Hero Completes His Mission
In an uncharacteristically quiet moment, Justin Dart, Jr., died with
his wife and partner, Yoshiko Dart, at his side. Best known as the father
of the Americans with Disabilities Act and often called the Martin Luther
King of the disability civil rights movement, he thought of himself in
much more humble termssimply as a soldier of justice.
After nearly 50 years of advocacy for the civil rights of oppressed people
in America and around the world, Mr. Dart spent his final days at home
completing his manifesto. His tenacious impatience and unwavering voice
of empowerment will continue in the hearts and minds of all who fight
Death is not a tragedy, wrote Mr. Dart. It is not an
evil from which we must escape. Death is as natural as birth. Like childbirth,
death is often a time of fear and pain, but also of profound beauty, of
celebration of the mystery and majesty which is life pushing its horizons
toward oneness with the truth of Mother Universe. The days of dying carry
a special responsibility. There is a great potential to communicate values
in a uniquely powerful waythe person who dies demonstrating for
I call for solidarity among all who love justice, all who love
life, to create a revolution that willempower every single human being
to govern his or her life, to govern the society and to be fully productive
of life quality for self and for all.
Justin Dart Obituary
by Fred Fay and Fred Pelka, written at Justin Darts request.
June 22, 2002
Justin Dart, Jr., a leader of the international disability rights movement
and a renowned human rights activist, died last night at his home in Washington
D.C. Widely recognized as the father of the Americans with Disabilities
Act and the godfather of the disability rights movement,
Dart had for the past several years struggled with the complications of
post-polio syndrome and congestive heart failure. He was seventy-one years
old. He is survived by his wife Yoshiko, their extended family of foster
children, his many friends and colleagues, and millions of disability
and human rights activists all over the world.
Dart was a leader in the disability rights movement for three decades,
and an advocate for the rights of women, people of color, and gays and
lesbians. The recipient of five presidential appointments and numerous
honors, including the Hubert Humphrey Award of the Leadership Conference
on Civil Rights, Dart was on the podium on the White House lawn when President
George H. Bush signed the ADA into law in July 1990. Dart wa s also a
highly successful entrepreneur, using his personal wealth to further his
human rights agenda by generously contributing to organizations, candidates,
and individuals, becoming what he called a little PAC for empowerment.
In 1998 Dart received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations
highest civilian award. Justin Dart, said President Clinton
in 1996, in his own way has the most Olympian spirit I believe I
have ever come across.
Until the end, Dart remained dedicated to his vision of a revolution
of empowerment. This would be, he said, a revolution that
confronts and eliminates obsolete thoughts and systems, that focuses the
full power of science and free-enterprise democracy on the systematic
empowerment of every person to live his or her God-given potential.
Dart never hesitated to emphasize the assistance he received from those
working with him, most especially his wife of more than thirty years,
Yoshiko Saji. She is, he often said, quite simply the
most magnificent human being I have ever met.
Time and again Dart stressed that his achievements were only possible
with the help of hundreds of activists, colleagues, and friends. There
is nothing I have achieved, and no addiction I have overcome, without
the love and support of specific individuals who reached out to empower
me... There is nothing I have accomplished without reaching out to empower
others. Dart protested the fact that he and only three other disability
activists were on the podium when President Bush signed the ADA, believing
that hundreds of others should have been there as well. After
receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Dart sent out replicas of
the award to hundreds of disability rights activists across the country,
writing that, this award belongs to you.
Justin Dart, Jr., was born on August 29, 1930, into a wealthy and prominent
family. His grandfather was the founder of the Walgreen Drugstore chain,
his father a successful business executive, his mother a matron of the
American avant garde. Dart would later describe how he became a
super loser as a way of establishing his own identity in this family
of super winners. He attended seven high schools, not graduating
from any of them, and broke Humphrey Bogarts all-time record for
the number of demerits earned by a student at elite Andover prep. People
didnt like me. I didnt like myself.
Dart contracted polio in 1948. With doctors saying he had less than three
days to live, he was admitted into the Seventh Day Adventist Medical University
in Los Angeles. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by
people who were openly expressing love for each other, and for me, even
though I was hostile to them. And so I started smiling at people, and
saying nice things to them. And they responded, treating me even better.
It felt so good! Three days turned into forty years, but Dart never
forgot this lesson. Polio left Dart a wheelchair user, but he never grieved
about this. I count the good days in my life from the time I got
polio. These beautiful people not only saved my life, they made it worth
Another turning point was Darts discovery in 1949 of the philosophy
of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Dart defined Gandhis message as, Find
your own truth, and then live it. This theme too would stay with
him for the rest of his life. Dart attended the University of Houston
from 1951 to 1954, earning his bachelors and masters degrees
in political science and history. He wanted to be a teacher, but the university
withheld his teaching certificate because he was a wheelchair user. During
his time in college, Dart organized his first human rights groupa
pro-integration student group at what was then a whites-only institution.
Dart went into business in 1956, building several successful companies
in Mexico and Japan. He started Japan Tupperware with three employees
in 1963, and by 1965 it had expanded to some 25,000. Dart used his businesses
to provide work for women and people with disabilities. In Japan, for
example, he took severely disabled people out of institutions, gave them
paying jobs within his company, and organized some of them into Japans
first wheelchair basketball team. It was during this time he met his wife,
The final turning point in Darts life came during a visit to Vietnam
in 1966, to investigate the status of rehabilitation in that war-torn
country. Visiting a rehabilitation center for children with
polio, Dart instead found squalid conditions where disabled children were
left on concrete floors to starve. One child, a young girl dying there
before him, took his hand and looked into his eyes. That scene,
he would later write, is burned forever in my soul. For the first
time in my life I understood the reality of evil, and that I was a part
of that reality.
The Darts returned to Japan, but terminated their business interests.
After a period of meditation in a dilapidated farmhouse, the two decided
to dedicate themselves entirely to the cause of human and disability rights.
They moved to Texas in 1974, and immersed themselves in local disability
activism. From 1980 to 1985, Dart was a member, and then chair, of the
Texas Governors Committee for Persons with Disabilities. His work
in Texas became a pattern for what was to follow: extensive meetings with
the grassroots, followed by a call for the radical empowerment of people
with disabilities, followed by tireless advocacy until victory was won.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dart to be the vice-chair
of the National Council on Disability. The Darts embarked on a nationwide
tour, at their own expense, meeting with activists in every state. Dart
and others on the Council drafted a national policy that called for national
civil rights legislation to end the centuries old discrimination of people
with disabilitieswhat would eventually become the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990.
In 1986, Dart was appointed to head the Rehabilitation Services Administration,
a $3 billion federal agency that oversees a vast array of programs for
disabled people. Dart called for radical changes, and for including people
with disabilities in every aspect of designing, implementing, and monitoring
rehabilitation programs. Resisted by the bureaucracy, Dart dropped a bombshell
when he testified at a public hearing before Congress that the RSA was
a vast, inflexible federal system which, like the society it represents,
still contains a significant portion of individuals who have not yet overcome
obsolete, paternalistic attitudes about disability. Dart was asked
to resign his position, but remained a supporter of both Presidents Reagan
and Bush. In 1989, Dart was appointed chair of the Presidents Committee
on the Employment of People with Disabilities, shifting its focus from
its traditional stance of urging business to hire the handicapped
to advocating for full civil rights for people with disabilities.
Dart is best known for his work in passing the Americans with Disabilities
Act. In 1988, he was appointed, along with parents advocate Elizabeth
Boggs, to chair the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment
of Americans with Disabilities. The Darts again toured the country at
their own expense, visiting every state, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District
of Columbia, holding public forums attended by more than 30,000 people.
Everywhere he went, Dart touted the ADA as the civil rights act
of the future. Dart also met extensively with members of Congress
and staff, as well as President Bush, Vice President Quayle, and members
of the Cabinet. At one point, seeing Dart at a White House reception,
President Bush introduced him as the ADA man. The ADA was
signed into law on July 26, 1990, an anniversary that is celebrated each
year by disability pride events all across the country.
While taking pride in passage of the ADA, Dart was always quick to list
all the others who shared in the struggle: Robert Silverstein and Robert
Burgdorf, Patrisha Wright and Tony Coelho, Fred Fay and Judith Heumann,
among many others. And Dart never wavered in his commitment to disability
solidarity, insisting that all people with disabilities be protected by
the law and included in the coalition to pass itincluding mentally
ill psychiatric survivors and people with HIV/AIDS. Dart called
this his politics of inclusion, a companion to his politics
of principle, solidarity, and love.
After passage of the ADA, Dart threw his energy into the fight for universal
health care, again campaigning across the country, and often speaking
from the same podium as President and Mrs. Clinton. With the defeat of
universal health care, Dart was among the first to identify the coming
backlash against disability rights. He resigned all his positions to become
a full-time citizen soldier in the trenches of justice. With
the conservative Republican victory in Congress in 1994, followed by calls
to amend or even repeal the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (or IDEA), Dart, and disability rights advocates Becky Ogle
and Frederick Fay, founded Justice for All, what Dart called a SWAT
team to beat back these attacks. Again, Dart was tirelesstraveling,
speaking, testifying, holding conference calls, presiding over meetings,
calling the media on its distortions of the ADA, and flooding the country
with American flag stickers that said, ADA, IDEA, America Wins.
Both laws were saved. Dart again placed the credit with the thousands
of grassroots patriots who wrote and e-mailed and lobbied. But there
can be no doubt that without Darts leadership, the outcome might
have been entirely different.
In 1996, confronted by a Republican Party calling for a retreat
from Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln democracy, Dart campaigned
for the re-election of President Clinton. This was a personally difficult
decision of conscience. Dart had been a Republican for most
of his life, and had organized the disability constituency campaigns of
both Ronald Reagan and George Bush, campaigning against Clinton in 1992.
But in a turnabout that was reported in the New York Times and the Washington
Post, Dart went all out for Clinton, even speaking at the Democratic National
Convention in Chicago. The Darts yet again undertook a whirlwind tour
of the country, telling people to get into politics as if your life
depended on it. It does. At his speech the day after the election,
President Clinton publicly thanked Dart for personally campaigning in
all fifty states, and cited his efforts as one reason we won some
of those states.
Dart suffered a series of heart attacks in late 1997, which curtailed
his ability to travel. He continued, however, to lobby for the rights
of people with disabilities, and attended numerous events, rallies, demonstrations
and public hearings. Toward the end of his life, Dart was hard at work
on a political manifesto that would outline his vision of the revolution
of empowerment. In its conclusion, he urged his Beloved colleagues
in struggle, listen to the heart of this old soldier. Our lives, our childrens
lives, the quality of the lives of billions in future generations hangs
in the balance. I cry out to you from the depths of my being. Humanity
needs you! Lead! Lead! Lead the revolution of empowerment!
Today, disabled people across the country and around the world will grieve
at the passing of Justin Dart, Jr. But we will celebrate his love and
his commitment to justice. Please join us at in expressing our condolences
to Yoshiko and her family during this difficult time. Keep in mind, however,
that it was Justins wish that any service or commemoration be used
by activists to celebrate our movement, and as an opportunity to recommit
themselves to the revolution of empowerment.I AM WITH
YOU. I LOVE YOU. LEAD ON.
Listen to the heart of this old soldier. As with all of us the time
comes when body and mind are battered and weary. But I do not go quietly
into the night. I do not give up struggling to be a responsible contributor
to the sacred continuum of human life. I do not give up struggling to
overcome my weakness, to conform my lifeand that part of my life
called deathto the great values of the human dream.
Death is not a tragedy. It is not an evil from which we must escape.
Death is as natural as birth. Like childbirth, death is often a time
of fear and pain, but also of profound beauty, of celebration of the
mystery and majesty which is life pushing its horizons toward oneness
with the truth of mot her universe. The days of dying carry a special
responsibility. There is a great potential to communicate values in
a uniquely powerful waythe person who dies demonstrating for civil
Let my final actions thunder of love, solidarity, protestof empowerment.
I adamantly protest the richest culture in the history of the world,
a culture which has the obvious potential to create a golden age of
science and democracy dedicated to maximizing the quality of life of
every person, but which still squanders the majority of its human and
physical capital on modern versions of primitive symbols of power and
I adamantly protest the richest culture in the history of the world
which still incarcerates millions of humans with and without disabilities
in barbaric institutions, backrooms and worse, windowless cells of oppressive
perceptions, for the lack of the most elementary empowerment supports.
I call for solidarity among all who love justice , all who love life,
to create a revolution that will empower every single human being to
govern his or her life, to govern the society and to be fully productive
of life quality for self and for all.
I do so love all the patriots of this and every nation who have fought
and sacrificed to bring us to the threshold of this beautiful human
dream. I do so love America the beautiful and our wild, creative, beautiful
people. I do so love you, my beautiful colleagues in the disability
and civil rights movement.
My relationship with Yoshiko Dart includes, but also transcends, love
as the word is normally defined. She is my wife, my partner, my mentor,
my leader and my inspiration to believe that the human dream can live.
She is the greatest human being I ever known.
Yoshiko, beloved colleagues, I am the luckiest man in the world to
have been associated with you. Thanks to you, I die free. Thanks to
you, I die in the joy of struggle. Thanks to you, I die in the beautiful
belief that the revolution of empowerment will go on. I love you so
Im with you always.
Lead on! Lead on! Justin Dart
Comments sent to ABILITY Magazine
Justins commitment to helping others will live
on for years to come. He was a courageous, good man. We Bushes will miss
President George Bush
Hillary and I are deeply saddened by Justins
passing. Justin was a rare person of tremendous courage and willfulness.Never
once did he allow his disability to limit his life; instead, Justin turned
his disability into a source of incredible strength not only for himself
but for millions of Americans. His spirit was relentless and his heart
was always full of love. The contributions he made to our lives and the
life of this nation will thunder on long after he is gone. Hillary and
I will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends
and family at this difficult time.
President Bill Clinton
Justin Dart was a pioneer in the disability field
who never tired working to improve the lives of those with severe disabilities.
He will be greatly missed but never forgotten.
Senator Bob Dole
Justin Dart was the Abraham Lincoln of the disability
community and no one could ever replace him. So many millions of Americans
with disabilities never knew his name but they owe him so much. He was
a champion who was at the forefront of disability rights for decades.
Senator Tom Harkin
He was one of our countrys greatest warriors
in the fight for civil rights for people with disabilities. He was a friend
of mine, and I will miss him very much.
Senator Edward Kennedy
I feel so privileged to have had the honor of knowing
and working with Justin. Many on Capitol Hill may remember him, in his
cowboy hat, offering critical input as we worked to draft the Americans
With Disabilities Act. On July 26, 1990, Justin was at the side of President
George Bush when the president signed the bill into law. Justin referred
to that event as a landmark date in the evolution of human culture,
and we all have Justin to thank for his immeasurable gift to that evolution...
Senator Jim Jeffords
The Resurrection of Justin Dart, Jr.: A Quest for Truth
by Mari Carlin Dart
As a child I did not know my uncle. Years ago when I asked
my father about his older brother, he lowered his eyes and ran a heavy
hand over his head with a sigh. Nothing. The old if you cant
say anything nice, dont say anything at all approach. My mother
was not so diplomatic. Poisonous, she said of Justin Dart
Jr., a heartless, caustic, sorry excuse for a human being.
My father Peter W. Dart died, mercifully, in his sleep
on January 27, 1988. Years of dealing with the effects of polio and a
serious head injury had taken all of the fight out of him. Long gone were
the days of fly fishing the Roaring Fork River propped up on metal crutches.
Gone was the beloved airplane he piloted as deftly and gracefully as a
skater gliding across the ice. Gone, even, was all short term memory,
sharpness of sight and the ability to take a deep breath. The last to
be taken from him, only days before his death, were his crutches (in trade
for a wheelchair) and his drivers license. The bleakness of the
depression he had struggled with for years closed over him as he gave
up the last vestiges of his independence.
I was surprised and admittedly curious when Justin rolled
through the wheelchair accessible front door for my fathers memorial
service. I didnt know that by this time Justin was already deep
into his work crafting legislation to empower people with disabilities.
Indeed, Justin had put in nearly 30 years of tireless and selfless work
on behalf of the disability community, speaking out in all 50 states and
circumnavigating the globe in a crusade to affect change. All I knew was
that this man in a battered old cowboy hat and boots was the stuff of
scary stories in my family. He was legendary for the swath of pain and
destruction he had wrought. But when I looked into his clear blue eyes
I couldnt find any evidence of the arrogance and anger Id
heard so much about. On the contrary, when Justin took my hand for the
first time and smiled gently at me in greeting, I recognized the stillness
that comes from deep self-examination. I felt only love.
How can this be? I thought. What about the divorces, the trail
of disgruntled daughters Justin had left in his wake? I felt as though
a chapter of my family story had been ripped out. Suddenly nothing added
up. I felt cheated. How could my father have denied me knowing this beautiful
manhis only full brotheruntil now? And why did it take my
fathers death for me to be able to put my hand in Justins?
The answer, it turns out, was both simple and complex, as families often
Justin was born to privilege and powerthe kind that
breeds contempt and a sense of entitlement. I was sitting next to his
adjustable, hospital-style bed in his crowded Washington D.C. apartment
when he told me he and my father had grown up in an atmosphere of
hostility which totally dominated (our) childhood. Life was full
of fiery dinner table discussions, unrestrained emotional eruptions and
quirky turns of judgment, such as the time his father arrived home with
two lion cubspets for his young boys. My father was a college
football star Justin said understating the elder Dart by a mile.
(He was) a super successful executive and conservative political
activist. Justin Dart Sr. climbed to the top at the Walgreen Company
then left, eventually forming what would become Dart Industries, a multi-national
conglomerate. As if the bar was not set high enough by the aggressive
ambition of Justin Sr., his mother Ruth Walgreen brought to the mix a
sharp artistic intellect that was tempered with dark and stormy episodes
of depression. My mother combined movie star good looks (with) wealth
and a genius IQ to become a prominent author, Justin said. It was
a dysfunctional marriage. The two extremely driven and fiery parents had
little time or inclination for child rearing, let alone parental bonding.
(We were) basically raised by maids and chauffeurs. Justin
stated bluntly. The ill-advised match didnt last. In 1939 Justin
Dart Sr. and Ruth Walgreen divorced, but not before subjecting their young
sons to a very bitter and public custody battle.
I decided the only way to establish my own identity,
Justin said of his youth, was to become a hostile super loser.
To prove the point, Justin blasted his way in and out of some the countrys
most prestigious prep schools. When I was 14, he told me,
I broke the all-time demerit record at Andover. At home, sibling
rivalry turned violent when Justin threw a dart at my father, sinking
it deep into the bridge of his nose. I was an obnoxious kid.
Justin said. I never met a person I couldnt insult or a rule
I wouldnt break.
As if in cruel cosmic response to his contemptuous attitude,
the six-feet-tall handsome and rich 18-year-old Justin Dart Jr. was stricken
with polio in 1948. The doctors at Los Angeles County hospital told
my parents I was going to die in a few days, Justin explained, but
not to worry, Id be better off dead than crippled. Without
waiting to see if the doctors were right, Justins family quickly
had him moved to White Memorial Hospital, operated by the Seventh Day
Adventist Church. In one fell swoop, the course of his life was altered
forever. He not only lost the use of his legs, but because of a hospital
staffed by employees to whom every human life was sacred,
Justin found something he didnt know he had. I measure the
good part of my life from the time I got sick, Justin told me, not
losing any of the irony of the statement.
Even though I was rude to them, Justin said
of the hospital staff, (they) were passionately dedicated to expressing
love for each other (and) for me. It was a completely new experience
for a young man who had for most of his life expressed himself only through
deep anger and malice. I could feel the warmth of their love,
he related. For the first time. . .I knew the joy of life.
Justin remembered singing hymns with the nurses when nothing
else would quell the pain of his condition. They resurrected my
spiritthe sick spirit of a young man who had lived a short, lonesome
life of failure, hostility and self hate. Convinced he had only
a few days left to live, Justin recalled, I sort of went wild experimenting
with love. Love lifted me. And it did. . .it did. The loveand the
loving science of (those) strangerssaved my life.
Justin reentered the world two years later, looking at life
from a new vantage pointthe belt level of a wheelchair. Even though
hed regained enough strength and control to wear leg braces, he
decided to use a wheelchair after the first time he tried to climb a stone
staircase. I was terrified I was going to fall and hit my head,
he stated evenly.
Leaving the safe haven of White Memorial had its drawbacks.
Thrown back into contentious family dynamics, Justin was lost in a parental
tug-of-war. His father wanted him to continue on the fast track to financial
success and his mother had her own agenda. I was desperate for a
formula to live, Justin said. But he was stuck repeating old stereotypes
and behavior. I felt the power of love, he recalled, but
I didnt have the slightest idea how to use it. Justin then
quoted Gandhi from My Experiments With Truth: You can reach greatness.
You dont need a lot of money, a title or anyones approval.
The first time Justin read those words he was 20 years old and searching
for answers. I found my truth in advocating a united, loving society
with justice for all, he told me. You find your truth and
then you live that truth. I have spent the rest of my life trying to understand
exactly what my truth is, and struggling to overcome my addiction to the
It is true that change usually does not come easily nor
very quickly. But once the seed is planted, it must growin its
own time, in its own way. Reading Gandhis book did not fix
everything for Justin, but it gave him a new paradigm. I attacked
life with passion, he said and a crude statesmanlike effort
to use the power of being positive. He started several businesses,
even drawing my very conservative father into a bowling alley venture
in Mexico. Justin managed to find success, but not the respect he craved.
I asked my lawyer why I didnt get more credit for all the
great things I did, he recalled, why people criticized me.
Voicing the sentiment many around Justin felt, his attorney replied, Frankly,
youre a real son of a bitch, but youve got potential.
By 1968, Justin was living the high life in Japan. I
made every fashionable mistake, he said of himself. Alcohol,
prescription drugs, womanizing, divorces, bad mouthing, big mouthing,
bad parenting and outrageous self-advertising. In a bold public
relations sweep he even made the cover of Shukan Asahi, Japans equivalent
to Time magazine. Justin was living the epitome of material success and
riding the wave with reckless abandon. Hed been seduced by the drugs
of money, fame and power.
During a trip to Saigon, Justin made a casual visit to a
Catholic orphanage for children afflicted with polioa perfect photo
opportunity for the man who had been dubbed St. Justin in a wheelchair
by the press. He was utterly unprepared for the barbarism that unfolded
before him. Twisted bodies of children with pleading eyes lay strewn about
the concrete floor of a 15,000 square foot pavilion, lying in their
own urine and feces, covered with flies. Justin recalled. The draconian
conditions shook him to the core. I was engulfed by the devastating
perception that I (had) met real evil and I (was) a part of itthe
way Im living and dealing with disability is killing (these children).
After a sickening drunken binge in the hotel, Justin left Vietnam with
a new focus. I told Yoshiko (his fiancée at the time), We
cannot go on as we have been. Our lives have got to mean something. We
have got to get into this fight and stop this evil.
The images of the orphanage haunted Justin for years. He
never lost his concern for the children and the scene that had brought
him to his senses. Twenty four years after Justins fateful visit,
I participated in a humanitarian mission taking medical instruments and
supplies into (still embargoed) Vietnam. When I told Justin I would be
traveling the length of the country visiting hospitals, he asked me if
I could return to the orphanage in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in his
stead. Sister Marie, who had shown my uncle the sight that sobered him,
silently nodded recognition when I spoke my name. She reached across the
table where we sat drinking tea and placed her weathered old hand over
mine. She had no words for me. Tears spilled from her dark eyes. We watched
a tiny little girl wearing impossibly small leg braces pull herself into
my lap with a victorious grin. Things were different then,
Sister Marie said finally. (Theyre) better now. We have a
After the traumatic trip to Vietnam in 1968, I decided
to stop and examine my understandings, Justin told me, and
my values. He and Yoshiko retreated to an abandoned farmhouse in
the mountains of Japan for a kind of self-imposed exile. For six years
they detoxed, not only from from the drugs and alcohol but also from the
toxic society in which Justin had participated for so many years. I
looked hard at my life, Justin said. I began to truly experiment
with my truth. It came as a profound shock to understand that I was the
problem. . . (and also) that I was the solutionthat I am responsible
for myself and for all the problems. . .for all the solutions of society.
Because I am society, I (was) determined to dedicate my life to the movement
for a just society. In a 1970 letter to my father, Justin wrote:
I call myself a radical, if that means trying ones best to
think straight to the point and to experiment with change (in a life-quality
direction) which is possible now. . .now. I call myself a conservative,
if that means opposing violence, magical ideas of the instant utopias
by revolution or otherwise. . . I call myself a fan of science,
if science can be defined as having only one legitimate goalthe
highest possible quality of life for all in the world.
Justin and Yoshiko left the mountain and returned to America
in 1974. Gradually at first, then more fervently as the years passed,
they poured more and more of themselves into the disability rights movement,
sacrificing money and family to the cause.
Youre bound to make mistakes, but youve
got to keep reaching out. I was too late, two years too late, Justin
said of my father. I was out preaching to the world about empowerment
and independence. My own brother needed my attention , didnt get
it and died. Looking at a photo of my father pinned to the wall,
Justin commented, I keep it there to remind me I made a really ghastly
mistake. The brothers were estranged for most of their lives. Grim
family dynamics had left deep chasms of distrust between them. They saw
one and other only at occasional family gatherings, weddings and funerals.
Rarely were their visits anything more than polite and perfunctory. The
climate between them was more like casual acquaintances than brothers.
However, the depression that haunted my fathers last years drove
him to contact Justin with a new earnestness. I was skittish, I
didnt want to take the emotional risk, Justin recalled. Who
knows, if Id handled it differently, maybe wed be going fishing
together. I feel very guilty about (not being there for him). Turning
his eyes back to the photo, he continued, I try not to get too involved
in things like sitting next to the President. I keep my eyes on the prizepeople
who need me.
You arent born being a Gandhi, Martin Luther
King Jr., some kind of a saint or angelnot that I am any of those
things, Justin stated frankly. After decades of struggle,
I still have addictions to overcome. Each day he endeavors to live
closer to the ideals and truths he came to understand on the mountain.
Its important people realize I wasnt always like thisI
was no great communicator of justice. . .very seldom even of a smile.
I didnt always care about the well being of others. There
was even a time in his early advocacy when Justin was just sort
of doing it. I was geared to increasing my profits, he said. Somewhere
along the linehes not sure whenhe gave up the need for
monetary gain. The relationships, the great people with whom Ive
gotten to workthose are the rewards. The rewards are far greater
than I ever thought possible.
The time is coming when Justin will not be a visible inspiration
anymore. Theres no delicate way to put it, he told me
with the characteristic sparkle in his eyes, Im dying.
When President Clinton inquired about his health recently, Justin deadpanned,
I just celebrated the second anniversary of my first funeral. Apparently
Im well, Sir. But the fact remains his body is slowly succumbing
to a litany of ailments. Justin knows his days on the planet are numbered.
Soon his hat and his legacy of love will be passed to a new generation
of leaders. Some who dont yet feel the call will step forward. Reluctantly,
even tentatively in the beginning, they will be drawn into the greatest
movement in the world, with the greatest people in the world, according
During a recent visit, Justin described his nightly ritual
of looking up into the sky before sleeping to my mother Janneli Dart and
me. We are all a part of the vastness of the cosmos, he told
us. An infinitesimal part, but a part nonetheless. And we are responsible
for that partto be a part.
I will never forget those words, my mother later
said. People say you cant change. But the truth is, you are
what you want to be. You are what you believe you arewhat you believe
in. Justin taught me that.
Justin ends every letter he writes, every speech he makes
and nearly every conversation Ive ever had with him the same way.
At the culmination of a lifetime of personal interrogation and advocacy,
he seeks to remind us all of the most important things in life: You
have the power. You have the responsibility. I believe in you. And I love
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