A BIGGER MOVEMENT

Niko in front of the White House

Niko in front of the White House

(Originally published by Disability Rights Oregon)

Sixteen-year old Niko Boskovic won first place in a prestigious essay contest, and was selected as a delegate to an annual educational program. 

But, the program sponsor, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, withdrew his prize after learning Niko experiences autism and uses a letter board to communicate.

Our attorneys worked with Niko and his family to protest his treatment. In the end, the national board reversed its decision and allowed Niko to participate in the trip.

By: Niko Boskovic

We flew out of Portland on a very early flight, which got us into Philadelphia late Saturday evening. That evening, we started to experience that East coast heat I had heard about, and it never let up until we got back to Portland.

Young People from Across the World

The trip was a bit of a whirlwind! It started off as a group of Oregon and Washington delegates, and eventually grew to over 150 youth from all over the world. There were people from Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S.

It was interesting to see so many young people in one place with one purpose: to represent the values of the Odd Fellows on a national scale. Over the course of 11 days, we did so many things, from visiting historic sites to touring the United Nations’ main chambers.

As we learned about the history of the U.N.’s policies and actions throughout the world, I was struck by how many of its policies will affect the futures of so many countries.

Now I know that means I need to speak publicly about our struggles and our gifts; about our hopes and dreams for the future; about our intrinsic right to dignity and an independent future.

Speech Contest

My fellow delegates and I also participated in a speech contest.  We spent hours working on our speeches. Then, we presented them before a panel of judges.

I really liked the speech of the young woman from Washington who spoke so passionately about science. All of the finalists were remarkable because of their desire to make a difference in the world.

Niko in front of a U.N. banner about including people with disabilities in UN development goals.

Niko in front of a U.N. banner.

Historical Landmarks

The fact that we got to see so many landmarks was a bonus. Awesome sites like the view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, or the New York City skyline as you approach it by bus.

I’ll always remember the way I felt when I was standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial with all those people, and yet that moment felt so private.

I remember the way the water from the World War II fountain felt so good on my feet on that hot, muggy afternoon, and how the chatter from the girls I was hanging out with tickled my ears. The entire trip was a sensory feast, and I couldn’t get enough.

After spending so much time with this group of young people, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger movement, one that will make a difference in the world.

A Bigger Movement

After spending so much time with this group of young people, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger movement, one that will make a difference in the world.

The thing is, I already knew I wanted to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. I just couldn’t picture what that would look like.

Now I know that means I need to speak publicly about our struggles and our gifts; about our hopes and dreams for the future; about our intrinsic right to dignity and an independent future.

I am so incredibly thankful to the Odd Fellows Lodge that selected me for this opportunity and to Disability Rights Oregon for its help.

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