What is a Grassroots Connector?
A Grassroots Connector is a current or emerging leader within their community with a strong desire to implement change. The main role of a Grassroots Connector will be to recruit leadership, assist with the planning, coordination, and execution of outreach in order to build effective, ongoing change within their community.
We believe that leadership does not always require big actions or loud voices. It is often the quiet efforts and actions done with humility that have the most impact. For far too long, people with disabilities have been over- looked as leaders, mentors and connectors in their community. Yet, through a disability movement, the chant, “Nothing about us, without us,” is becoming a common statement that offsets the historical view of the stigma of oppression.
We strive to give space and opportunity to spotlight the leadership abilities and great strengths that individuals with disabilities share just by the lived experience of dealing with the daily challenges of life.
We STRONGLY value the leadership of a person with a disability who is:
- dedicated to addressing social justice issues they experience personally and also affect the well-being of people who are marginalized in their communities.
- able to facilitate conversations in ways that support others to understand their own value, gifts, and capacities.
- an organizer that attracts, educates and supports like-minded community members who want to make a difference with their own decisions on their own behalf.
- a connector and able to build relationships among community leaders and policy decision makers.
Where are the Grassroots Connectors located?
The Grassroots Connectors are in 5 (five) regions throughout the state: Atlanta, East, Central, North, and Southwest.
How Many People Serve as Grassroots Connectors?
There is a total of 10 (ten) Grassroots Connectors. 2 (two) per region.
Who are the Grassroots Connectors?
Neil Ligon has been advocating in many ways over the last 14 years. In August 2004, Neil was involved in a car wreck resulting in his disability. While relying on support groups and others in the disability community to learn to navigate my new reality, he became aware of the systemic inequities people with disabilities faced. Mr. Ligon is currently the Executive Director of a Center for Independent Living serving Southeast Georgia (LIFE, Inc.), a cross disability, peer-run organization that seeks to promote independent living and advance community change for everyone. His favorite most recent quote that reminds him not to turn away from what is uncomfortable and to continue to challenge his beliefs is:
“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.” ― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Lanona “Lee” Jones has made it her life’s mission to advocate for the underprivileged, the destitute, the homeless and disabled. As the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, Inspire Positivity, Inc., Ms. Jones develops programs, workshops and events that foster the concept of inspiring and encouraging disenfranchised and disabled residents of neighborhoods to take an active role in creating the revitalization and redevelopment of their communities. Ms. Jones has over 25 years of professional experience in the Human Resources and Non-Profit Management industries. Ms. Jones has a very unique perspective and understanding regarding the plight of the disabled populations in the community. Lanona applies her professional and lived experiences as a disabled individual to assist residents who are homeless, transitioning back into the community from incarceration and those who suffer from developmental disabilities, substance abuse and mental illness. Ms. Jones has committed her life to the service of others and for the uplifting and paths to success for the disenfranchised.
Advocacy comes naturally for Stancil Tootle, a person in long-term recovery 30 years. He has been fulfilling his civic responsibility since childhood. Tootle’s parents were advocates and changemakers. He shares stories of handing out flyers as a young boy to support candidates running for elected office. He remembers listening to conversations in his living room between his parents and of prominent Black activists. This early introduction to advocacy gave a firm foundation to 40+ years advocating for the rights of people who are blind. He was introduced to organized advocacy through the National Federation of the Blind – the largest organized blind movement in the world. Tootle was also an early participant in Georgia’s independent living movement. In recent years, his advocacy efforts have expanded into opioid addiction policies and now, in partnership with The Arc Georgia, he is combining his advocacy expertise into his efforts to end voter suppression of Black Americans with disabilities.
James Butler’s eyes were opened to advocacy two decades ago when the local school system was unable to give his Tourett-diagnosed son the support he was entitled to. “In those days, the schools and even a lot of families tended to segregate people they didn’t understand,” he says. “It was a challenge to get them accepted.” Butler discovered the special education opportunities available under the “free appropriate” doctrine of federal law. Even then, he remembered, “we had to fight” to secure his son’s rights because “people are sometimes afraid to interact.” If a student or adult asks Butler “what’s wrong” with a disabled person, he often replies: “Go ask them yourself.” The direct exchange is often an eye-opening experience for the questioner.
The main lesson: “You can effect change. But it has to be centered around building relationships.” And that is what Butler tries to do throughout his work.
The Grassroots Connectors are currently involved in two projects:
Georgians in the Driver’s Seat and Georgia Disability Vote Partnership.