Friday, February 22, 2013

“Physical Disabilities Are Not Mental Disabilities”

Some people are uncomfortable around people with disabilities.  It’s a fact of life that everybody knows, and it still catches me by surprise.  To my able-bodies readers out there, I urge you to stop being so politically correct.  If a woman is blind, she knows it.  If a man’s in a wheelchair, I guaranty you he knows it.  The problem is that so many able-bodied people simply don’t know how to behave around us.  So let me give you a few clues.

1.       Don’t just ignore the elephant in the room.  For example, a woman recently told me she likes to walk in the morning.  Then she gasped as if she had said something dreadful because I’m in a wheelchair and tried to hide that gasp.  In her mind, it was politically incorrect to use the word “walk.”  Wrong.  I know all about walking and running.  I did it for years and years, and it’s what people do.  It’s not offensive to me or anybody else in a wheelchair.  Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or avoid certain words.  Stop worrying that we’ll be insulted.  We’re not.

2.      It’s not nice to stare, but if you do, don’t avert your eyes when you get busted.  I understand that you don’t see a person in a wheelchair every day, and I understand you want to look.  I’ll even smile at you when you do and perhaps start a conversation.  But when you avert your eyes and turn away, we can’t make any progress.  You feel embarrassed, and I feel like I’ve lost an opportunity.  So stop doing it.

3.      Offer help with small things, but don’t be offended if we tell you we’d rather do it ourselves.    I’m always grateful when somebody stops to open a door for me, and I thank them for that simple courtesy.  It’s a good thing.  That person should be rewarded with a smile and a word of thanks.  But, for example, if I’m in a store trying to grab the Cheerios off the shelf with my gripper, don’t be offended if I say: “Thanks, but I’d rather work it out on my own.”  You see, we want to be as self reliant as possible, and sometimes we have to work a little harder.  Don’t let your feelings get bruised.  Instead, understand that we are trying to manage our lives and do as many of the little things on our own as we can.

4.      Engage.  Don’t be afraid.  Most of us don’t bite, and very few of us have rabies.  The ones that do are mostly in the north anyway.  We like to talk and even tell a few off-color jokes once in a while.  We work in your neighborhood, volunteer at community events, vote Republican sometimes but not often, and work for a living.  A broken spine is not a broken mind.  I like to use mine and even share it with you.

The bottom line is this.  Like the rest of the community, some of us are smart, some not.  Some are white, some black.  Some are ignorant, some well informed.  Some are grouchy, some cheerful.  We are all these things in the same proportion as the able-bodied community.  You, my able-bodied friend, must learn to overlook the obvious and engage with us as people.  We will enjoy it, and you will be enriched for it.

End of sermon.

Dwight Owens


For more information on my story, my missions, or to purchase a copy of Still Standing, visit my website at .

Friday, February 15, 2013

“Staten Island Giving Circle”

There are several companies and organizations that I have a great fondness for.  One is Cabot Creamery Cooperative, and they will be the subject of a later blog.  Another is the Staten Island Giving Circle founded by Evelyn Kormanik.  I met Evelyn when we both were awarded for volunteer excellence on Cabot Creamery’s Celebrity Cruise. Evelyn has a huge heart, great organizational skills, and an infectious personality.  Her husband, Mike, also has a huge heart and is spectacular at supporting everything the Giving Circle does. She has been active in volunteering all her life, but her most intriguing venture came in January 2008 when she established the Staten Island Giving Circle.  I have spent a lot of time with this group and even made a presentation before a local Boy Scout troop about a year ago at their request.

In early 2008, Evelyn made a New Year’s resolution to form her own charitable group.  Then she acted on that resolution.  She invited many like-minded friends from her book club, tennis league, and church to discuss a program that they would run themselves.  Some 25 people came to her home for that first meeting, and word soon began to spread.  The group is now some 150 strong, and they meet each month.  Every member contributes at least $10 for a raffle they hold in the house, and most people purchase $20-$50 in extra tickets.  They choose two winners, split the proceeds down the middle, and distribute the money to the charities of the winners’ choice.  Over the past five years, they have raised over $60,000 for foundations supporting research for Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Lupus, and Breast Cancer.  They have made contributions to the Wounded Warriors Foundation, the Coalition of Children in Need in Haiti, and many others.  They also support many local groups such as food pantries, shelters for the homeless, and homes for victims of domestic abuse.

Most recently as a result of Hurricane Sandy, the Giving Circle has directed their efforts locally.  Staten Island was brutalized by this hurricane, and there are still countless thousands without homes or shelter.  Evelyn and her group have invited distressed neighbors to live in their homes during this tough stretch, and they have delivered water, food, blankets, clothing, and all manner of necessities for their neighbors living in shelters.  They have never been afraid to get their hands dirty. Their work has made a huge difference for the people who need it most in their community, and there’s no sign that they’re slowing down. 

The Staten Island Giving Circle has received numerous awards for their outstanding works of service. I have become great friends with some of the members, such as Lori and Tina. I feel honored to have Evelyn, Mike, and the Staten Island Giving Circle as family.

Says Evelyn: “The needs out there are vast, and we can’t fix every problem.  But we can sure help some people.  It brings me joy every day to know my friends and I are making a real difference for some of the neediest among us.”    That’s how they live their lives every day, and that’s how they make a difference.

If you want to know more about the Staten Island Giving Circle or if you want to get involved, visit

Dwight Owens

For more information on my story, my missions, or to purchase a copy of "Still Standing," visit my website at 

Friday, February 8, 2013


There are many people who represent the spirit of “Still Standing,” and Ishaunna Gully is one of them.    About eleven years ago at the age of twenty, Ishaunna was sitting quietly at home with her son’s father when she heard a loud banging on the front door.  She didn’t have time to open it before her ex-boyfriend burst in screaming at her in a jealous rage.  He was jealous that she was moving on with her life.  Things quickly went from bad to worse as he pulled out a gun and shot Ishaunna and her son’s father, leaving them both for dead.  They both survived, but Ishaunna had taken a bullet in the back, which fractured her spinal cord.  She is paralyzed from the waist down.

I knew some of Ishaunna’s story. Even though we had crossed each other’s path many times before, I only met her face-to-face, or wheelchair-to-wheelchair, for the first time after writing my story.  Ishaunna and I had so much in common, yet we had somehow missed out on each other until she approached me after reading “Still Standing.” 

“Dwight, I’m Ishaunna,” she said after rolling over to me in her wheelchair.  “I am so glad you wrote your story.  We have much in common.” Since then, we have become the best of friends.

Like me, Ishaunna was paralyzed from the waist down.  She had gone through extensive surgeries and a grueling rehab, and she had found a way to go forward with a smile on her face.  But she had a good reason.  Her son Willis was her gift.  He needed “Mommy,” and Ishaunna was not about to give up.  She thought about giving up but knew she had a compelling reason to go on.  She found courage in her faith and in knowing that she had a job to do.  She had to raise her son.  Willis is now 13 and doing great. Day after day, month after month, Ishaunna worked through the psychology and physical agony to make herself strong and independent.  Even now, the bullet from the gun is still lodged in Ishaunna’s spine. She endured the pain with grace and dignity and learned once again how to do all the little things that she had taken for granted all her life.  She couldn’t walk, but she could sure get around on her wheelchair.  She couldn’t stand, but she could sure cook like a pro.  And above all, she could sure be a loving mother to her son.  Ishaunna’s mother helped her, and many other pitched in, and in time Ishauna rebuilt her life.

Ishaunna now works for Project LINC Americorps.  As a part of LIFE, (Living Independence for Everyone), Ishaunna has turned her personal tragedy into a living example for countless others.  She went back to school, got her Associate Degree, and will start at my alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi this fall to complete her studies.  She counsels newly disabled people and teaches them how to regain their confidence and live self sufficiently.  She also speaks out against domestic violence. But mostly, Ishaunna is an example for the people around her.  As she often tells her newly-disabled clients: “I’m proof that you can have a good and meaningful life.”  And everybody knows these are not just hollow words.  A good and meaningful life is exactly what she is living. I am proud to call Ishaunna my friend. She is truly Still Standing.

Dwight Owens

For more information on my story, my missions, or to purchase a copy of “Still Standing,” visit my website at .

Friday, February 1, 2013

“Early Fatherhood”

My daughter Brailey arrived seven weeks ago, and I think she got the hang of being a kid much faster than I’ve gotten used to being a Dad.  She seems to have taken to it quite naturally, while I sometimes feel clumsy in my new role.  But I have learned many great things already.

The first thing I’ve learned is that sleep is a precious luxury.  I used to think it was necessary.  I never slept much compared to most people, but now I understand down to the cellular level just what it means to be sleep deprived.  And the word that comes first to mind is torture.   My angelic daughter seems to have a sixth sense about this, and in her world, it’s time to wake up crying five minutes after I have finally dozed off.  I shake my head trying to claw my way from the fog I’m in, and I look at her and marvel.  How can she do this?  What piece of her DNA makes this happen? Lol.  It is a remarkable thing, and my mother and in-laws just smile almost vengefully each time I tell them about it. 

“Dwight, what goes around comes around,” my mother says.

“Mom, I know I was no bargain as a youngster,” I answer. “I sure hope this only comes part way around.”

Another thing I’ve learned is that infants are more resilient than we uninitiated parents think.  Brailey wakes up crying, and my immediate impulse is to charge off to the emergency room.  “What’s wrong?” I think, and then I restrain this impulse to charge off to the hospital and investigate in my own awkward way. 

Diaper change?  Hunger?  Upset stomach? 

I investigate, diagnose, and fix whatever I find as best I can.  And as I do this, I realize that Brailey is learning things that will last her a life time.  She’s learning that when she’s uncomfortable or unhappy, one or two giant forms in her life will emerge, me or Tamika, to comfort her.  She’s learning that she’s not alone, she belongs to something.  She’s learning our touch, our motions, our voices, which probably sounds like a deep rumble to her ears.  But mostly she’s learning how loved she is.  And I’m learning a few important things myself.

I’m learning how to love in a way I’ve never loved before.  I’m learning that sleep isn’t that important after all.  I’m learning to look at the world again through the eyes of a precious new person in my life.  I’m learning to communicate with a seven-week old. And I’m learning that this is the best thing I’ve ever done.  My daughter has taught me a lot in seven short weeks.  Above all, she’s teaching me how to be a Dad.
I love you Brailey Samara Owens.

Your Dad,
Dwight Owens

To learn more about my story or to purchase a copy of "Still Standing," visit my original website at .