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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Letter to Obama Foundation

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA,

I AM WRITING YOU TO SEE IF IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE TO VISIT WITH YOU THIS SUMMER. I WAS SUPPOSED TO TAKE PART IN THE UN YOUTH PILGRIMAGE THROUGH THE ODD FELLOWS LODGE, BUT THEY DECIDED THAT BECAUSE I AM AUTISTIC AND RELY ON A LETTERBOARD TO COMMUNICATE, THEY DECIDED I SHOULD NOT TAKE PART. THIS WAS INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTING TO ME, BECAUSE I WON MY SPOT FAIR AND SQUARE. I DON’T SEE WHY SOMEONE LIKE ME SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO TAKE PART JUST BECAUSE I COMMUNICATE DIFFERENTLY.

THE PURPOSE OF MY TRIP WAS TO VISIT THE UN IN NEW YORK CITY, SEE MONTREAL, AND VISIT OUR COUNTRY’S CAPITAL AND LEARN ABOUT HISTORY. POSSIBLY, WE WOULD HAVE STAYED A LITTLE LONGER TO SEE MY UNCLE’S FAMILY. LET’S JUST SAY THAT THE DENIAL OF MY PARTICIPATION REALLY MESSED UP THOSE PLANS.

THE VERY FACT OF MY PARTICIPATION WAS A BIG STEP IN MY EXCITING JOURNEY AS A SELF-ADVOCATE. IT WAS ONLY THREE YEARS AGO THAT I LEARNED HOW TO USE A LETTERBOARD. SINCE THAT TIME, I STARTED HIGH SCHOOL, AND A WHOLE WORLD OPENED UP TO ME. I AM LEARNING SO MANY NEW THINGS, AND REALLY, I CHANGE FOR THE BETTER EVERY CLASS I ATTEND. MY PLAN IS TO STUDY SCIENCE IN COLLEGE. PERHAPS THAT’S CRAZY, BUT I’M GOING TO TRY. ULTIMATELY, I WANT TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO ARE LOW-VERBAL OR RELY ON ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY TO COMMUNICATE. MY LIFE IS AMAZING, AND I WOULDN’T WISH IT TO BE AN OTHER WAY THAN AUTISTIC.

REGARDING THE TRIP, MY MOM SAID SHE WOULD TAKE ME TO DC EVEN IF THE UN PEOPLE DON’T REVERSE THEIR DECISION. WITH THAT IN MIND, I WOULD APPRECIATE MEETING WITH YOU TO SHARE MY VISION OF WHAT AUTISTIC CITIZENS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR COUNTRY.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME,

NIKO BOSKOVIC

Why I Marched in the Women’s March on Portland Today

image of Niko in blue jacket, black gloves and hat holding a sign that reads "Autistic & proud."SOMETHING I SHOULD GET OFF MY CHEST: INITIALLY, I THOUGHT TRUMP WAS AMUSING. HE WAS THIS MANIACAL, TINY-HANDED EGOCENTRIC FOOL WHO WAS IN IT AS SOME SORT OF DARE THAT HE COULDN’T GET OUT OF. THEN HE WON THE ELECTION, HARDLY, AS A MATTER OF FACT, WITHOUT A GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY. THE MINI-TYRANT WON, LEAVING MILLIONS FEELING HOPELESS.
THAT IS WHY I WANTED TO MARCH. VERY LITTLE ATTENTION WAS GIVEN TO THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY DURING THE ELECTION, AND WE ARE NOW FACING THE BIGGEST THREAT TO OUR FREEDOM AS WE KNOW IT. WE NEED TO BE TELLING OUR STORIES OVER AND OVER SO THAT WE ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.
YOU ONLY SEEM TO THINK OF OUR RIGHTS WHEN YOU READ SOMETHING IN THE PAPER OR READ ABOUT IT IN YOUR NEWSFEED. NOTHING WOULD PROTECT US BETTER THAN NON-DISABLED PEOPLE SEEING OUR VALUE AND CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETY. WHAT WOULD SAVE US FROM TRUMP’S HISTORICAL DISDAIN WOULD BE IF PEOPLE BELIEVED IN INCLUSION AND INSISTED THAT PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES WERE VALUED MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITY. YOU CAN KEEP OUR RIGHTS INTACT FOR THE NEXT FOUR YEARS.
= WHY I MARCH TODAY =
TO MAKE PEOPLE SEE US.
TO MAKE US VISIBLE.
TO MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD.
TO MAKE THE WORLD A KINDER PLACE.
TO SHOW THAT WE WILL NOT TAKE SHIT FOR BEING DIFFERENT.
image of people dressed warmly in the cold rain holding protest signs MARCHING ALONGSIDE MY MOM AND MY SISTER WAS THE BEST WAY TO SHOW MY SUPPORT FOR THE WOMEN WHO HAVE MADE ME THE MAN I AM BECOMING. HOW THEY HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE, STOPPING AT NOTHING TO GET WHAT I NEED! NOW THAT I HAVE A VOICE, I CAN TELL THEM HOW MUCH I LOVE THEM. SOMEDAY SOON I WILL BE MORE INDEPENDENT, AND I WILL TOW THEM BEHIND *ME* FOR A CHANGE. UNTIL THAT DAY, WE WORK FOR *ALL* OUR RIGHTS AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
@WomenMarchPDX