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Roland "Commander" Sykes
June 1st, 1953 - March 10th, 2008

Wizard, Bit Twiddler, Philosopher, Teacher, and most fun of all...
The Bus Driver for ADAPT
Photo: Roland Sykes

From: Steve Brown

Lillian was reading our last Mouth a few days ago (takes longer to get to Hawai'i) when she asked me if I'd told her Roland had passed on.  I grabbed the magazine from her hands and looked at the picture and headline in disbelief.  How had I missed this?!? 

I first met Roland in the mid-1980s when he came to Oklahoma to direct the CIL in Tulsa.  People sometimes have a hard time imagining how Oklahoma was so radical in the 80s in disability rights, but it wasn't difficult -- a bunch of us, passionate about justice, disability rights, and changing the system, were there and Roland became the glue that coalesced us. 

He knew how to take Robert's Rules of Order and use it as a hammer. A sledgehammer.  I vividly recall one of our conversations when he told me his approach was that of a coal miner and mine was that of a scholar -- and he was absolutely right--but what was more important was we each respected each other's approaches and knew how to work with both our strengths -- and that applied to many other Oklahomans as well. 

I recall many other things about Roland:

Telling me, again in the 80s, computers would be the way people with disabilities would link with each other because we didn't have to leave our houses if we all had computers -- not we didn't want to leave our houses, but we didn't have to; or when I moved to Berkeley he sent me a note congratulating on moving to where the movement began and offering condolences on moving to where it sold out; and finally, telling me there could be no disability culture as long as 1 person was imprisoned in a nursing home. 

Needless to say we didn't agree on everything, but so what?  When I looked at the image gallery I thought I recognized this particular picture.  It's because I took it.  It was at the 1989 "Where is George?" march in front of the White House when the first George Bush was ignoring ADA. 

I also wrote about this experience in two poems.  One "Tap-Dancing on the White Hose Lawn" used this march as its jumping off point. The other, "Tell Your Story," the first poem I consciously wrote about the disability culture/rights experience included a segment on a friend whose "pockets were lined with Advocacy" as a result of this march. 

I have a number of pictures from this march.  Today, remembering another warrior fighting elsewhere I'm am thrilled that I could contribute in this small way to memorializing a great man and one of my heroes.

Steve Brown - Co-Founder
Institute on Disability Culture

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