A #GivingTuesday Silicon Valley Call Out

Photo © Misko | Flickr/Creative Commons
[image: The donations receptacle at the British Museum.]
It's #GivingTuesday everywhere, including right here in Silicon Valley. And while I'm sure the drivers of all those brand-new Teslas, BMWs, and other shiny cars whizzing around my local streets are being extra-philanthropic today in keeping with the Valley's ethos of social service, mindful giving, and finding the Very Best Charity for one's donationeering, there's one area in which I see a big black financial hole coupled with a need for innovation: Championing of struggling autism non-profits, especially local or smaller-scale ones.

The reasons this gap exists are many, and mostly based in misconceptions and discomfort: Autism is not considered as sexy as other causes, so, being involved with a smaller-scale autism organization is perhaps not so shiny a cap-feather. Also, thanks to decades of pity-engorged campaigns like Jerry's Kids, disability-based charity efforts can be considered maudlin, or dehumanizing—approaches Silicon Valley types shun (rightfully so, in the latter case).

And then, frankly, there's the fact that just talking about, let alone being involved with, autism and disability makes many people uncomfortable, and the assumption that only family members get involved with autism causes. Even though autistic people found, run, and staff their own orgs. Even though autistic people are just people, and have always been here. Even though most of us will likely become disabled if we aren't already, and if live long enough. And even though, most significantly, Silicon Valley is an autism epicenter for autistic individuals both diagnosed and un-, who have a tendency to meet and mate and create more autistic individuals with diverse abilities and support needs.

My son Leo with NeuroTribes author Steve Silberman, 
whose article The Geek Syndrome discussed autism in SV.
[image: White teen boy and white man posing with each
other in Golden Gate Park.]
So how can Silicon Valley start participating and investing in more autism-oriented philanthropy, and taking care of its autistic own? Because autism philanthropy certainly can be done properly.

May I suggest that, the next time one of you exuberantly talented Silicon Valley balls-of-energy-and-brainpower decides to make the world a better place, and realizes that working with or donating to an autism org is a good way to do that, you follow this path:

1) Donate to, or get on or consult for the board of a local autism organization or school. Many (though not all) of these organizations are constantly scrambling for funds, and/or have boards that are underpowered, in terms of connections, energy, and influence. Levering your innovation savvy and connections to strategize new success pathways could Do. So. Much. Good. (As would coaxing other associates of yours to join or consult with those boards, or donate to related causes.)

2) Back up and do some research into how the autistic community tends to think about itself and its innate diversity, what are the most helpful ways to think about meeting autistic needs, what autistic people themselves actually want from life, where they want (and don't want) to live, what they would have wanted as kids, and what they want from autism research. Consider avoiding the mistakes well-meaning and progressive people tend to make when they support autism causes, how the Road to Hell is paved, all that. And please avoid supporting organizations that fundamentally disrespect autistic people (feel free to ask, if you are unsure).

3) Choose an organization to support, like these fine options (about which I am completely biased; the latter two are local, and all links are to their donation pages):
  • The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network: A-List autistic butt-kickers who fight for policy, law, and social change.
  • NOS Magazine: The only autistic-run media current events and topics magazine; features both snark and hard research enough for skeptics of all stripes.
  • The Morgan Autism Center: Leo's school, which still needs help to upgrade its new facilities.
  • Via West: Leo's camp, which in the wake of the recent regional fires wants to install even more safeguards to protect its campers.
Feel free to list additional worthy orgs in the comments. And please please PLEASE get involved, if you can!


Locals Who Love Storytelling and Social Justice: Come to A Night In Bold!

One week from today, the fabulous social awareness + justice storytelling project Listen For A Change is holding their first-ever gala: A Night In Bold! If you have the ability to swing it, you should come. I'll be attending, cool people are coming, and extra-cool people like founder Thai Chu (who, moons ago, used to work in Leo's classroom) will be speaking.

Thai Chu, Listen For A Change founder
[image: Photo of a Southeast Asian man
with short black hair and glasses, smiling.]
Plus the charismatic and entertaining Jennifer Myers, my frequent co-conspirator, will be co-emceeing.

Wednesday, November 29
The Green Room
401 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco, CA 94102

There are only 18 tickets left, so I'd motor on getting yours. (You can even get $30 off with the code ListenRefer.)

If you want a preview of the kind of awesomeness that's in store for you, check out the past Listen For A Change event videos below. Storyteller Molly Maxwell will be performing at A Night in Bold!

Hope to see you there.

[Video description: Ayasha J. Tripp, a Black woman with long black braids up in a ponytail, tells her story, "Black Love Matters," on the journey of self-love, worth, acceptance, and how can’t talk about Black Lives if we don’t first address black love.]

[Video description: Lily Tapia, a Latinx woman with long wavy black hair, tells her story, "Sola, but Never Alone," about her experience as a first generation immigrant navigating East Side San Jose.]

[Video description: Molly Maxwell, a white woman with long straight light brown hair, tells her story, "Finding Grace," on her family's journey in raising a transgender child.]


The Way the World Should Look: Magical Bridge Playground Comes to Redwood City

Last week my town held the groundbreaking ceremony for its own Magical Bridge playground. This is a big deal, not just for Leo and our family, but for every local with a disability who has ever felt unwelcome at, or been unable to access, the casual, fun neighborhood playgrounds and parks experience that most other residents take for granted. This is inclusion done right.

If you're not familiar with Magical Bridge, you probably will be in the near future: The Magical Bridge Foundation is creating and deploying all-abilities-and-ages playgrounds right here in Silicon Valley. And when all goes according to plan, their ideals and examples and playgrounds will take over the world! (If you want to be part of this master plan, the best option right now is to help bringing Magical Bridge playgrounds to Sunnyvale and Morgan Hill.)

Since my crew and I are locals, the Magical Bridge power duo of founder Olenka Villareal and co-founder Jill Asher asked me to be one of the folks who gave short speeches during the ceremony. Here's what I had to say:

"Hi, I’m Shannon Des Roches Rosa. I’ve lived in Redwood City since 1994, and I’ve never wanted to live anyplace else in this region. My husband and I have three kids, all of whom went to Redwood City schools, and participated in the coin drives that helped make our Magical Bridge playground happen.

Actually giving this very speech. Photo © Elaine Park
[image: Me at a podium in a park, talking with my hands.]

My middle child, Leo, was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. And, as he got older, it became really obvious that the parks that he loved, like Maddux Park—where his big sister has a tile with a print of her baby-sized foot in the wall, and Stafford Park, and all the other wonderful parks in Redwood City were no longer as welcoming as they used to be.

Leo at Magical Bridge in Palo Alto, with Jill (L) and Olenka (R)
[image: Leo happily sitting in a spinning playround pod, between two
blonde white women wearing blue Magical Bridge t-shirts.]

"It’s hard, when your kids are different, or you’re different: sometimes other people are uncomfortable around you. And nobody wants to be around people who make you feel bad. So after a while, we started to spend more time at home, or would only go to parks and playgrounds when we knew no one else would be there. My son is a high-support mostly non-speaking guy, but he is amazing—and amazingly physical, and he always wants to hang out, run around, and play. So imagine my surprise and delight in finding out about Magical Bridge.

My kids Leo and J. playing together (!) at Magical Bridge Palo Alto
[image: Small white girl pushing a conical merry-go-round on which
her brother is lying down. Both kids seen from behind.]

"The first time I visited the Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto with my kids, I almost couldn’t believe that a place like it existed. And that’s not just about its accessibility: It’s not about the fact that everybody can play; it’s about the everybody does play. It’s the fact that, when I’m there, there are kids who don’t have obvious disabilities like my son does—but they will talk to him. They will take turns with him. And sometimes, we’ll realize that a few of them are part of our autism community, because they’ll want to talk about every single category of Pokemon for five straight minutes—and that’s great, too!

Leo at the Magical Bridge 2017 Halloween Party. We would *never*
go to a playground this busy, if it wasn't Magical Bridge

[image: Leo, wearing an orange-and-black Fred Flintstone costume,
seen from behind, swinging on a disc swing, at a crowded playground.]
"So I’m really excited about having a Magical Bridge Playground here in Redwood City because inclusion really matters. Because my son, and all of our friends with disabilities, whether they’re here today or not—they are human beings. With hopes, dreams, fears, and likes (my son is 17 years old; he likes Deadpool), just like you.

"But the fact that, so often, other people let disability get in the way of recognizing our shared humanity—that’s a problem. And that’s not something that happens when you have a place like Magical Bridge in Palo Alto already is, and Magical Bridge in Redwood City is going to be: It’s not about pity, it’s not about charity; it’s about making the world look the way it’s supposed to look—for everybody. And that’s why I just can’t wait until we have Magical Bridge here in our own backyard.

"Thank you so much, Olenka and Jill."

[video description: The Magical Bridge Redwood City speech-givers, doing ceremonial ground-breaking
by wearing hard hats and happily shoveling some dirt, in unison.]



[video description: Leo at 23 months, seen from overhead, 
happily running across a field to hug my legs and look up at me.]

So, this cute little dude is seventeen years old today. I blame the space-time continuum.

Below his playlist of current favorite tunes so you can celebrate being Leo virtually, as most of you won't happen to be at his jump-fest of a birthday party today eating angel food cupcakes along with the rest of us (Leo wanted vanilla cupcakes, so vanilla cupcakes he gets).

Note that many of these songs are definitely for seventeen-year-olds, and not younger individuals. And that many of them have misogynistic and ableist language, because popular music. Sigh.

  1. Salt-N-Pepa • Shoop
  2. Eminem • Without Me
  4. Glee Cast • Gold Digger [Glee Cast Version]
  5. Estelle  • American Boy (feat. Kanye West)
  6. MAC MILLER • Dang! (feat. Anderson .Paak) [Radio Edit]
  7. Chupacabras • Mueve el Esqueleto
  8. Tito Puente • Ran Kan Kan
  9. Machito and His Afro-Cubans • Bim Bam Bum
  10. Lord Kitchener • Jamaica Woman
  11. Harry Belafonte • Monkey
  12. Harry Belafonte • Zombie Jamboree
  13. Cab Calloway and His Orchestra • Some Of These Days
  14. Pokey LaFarge • Wanna Be Your Man
  15. Harry Connick, Jr. • Frosty the Snow Man
  16. Violent Femmes • Blister In the Sun
  17. Ella Mae Morse • Cow-Cow Boogie
  18. Cab Calloway • Blues In the Night
  19. Serge Gainsbourg • Pauvre Lola
  20. Danyel GĂ©rard • Youpi ya tamourĂ©
  21. Pernell Roberts • Early One Morning
  22. Benny Carter • Some of These Days