Ed Roberts, Activist
Dr. William Bronston: What Was Project Interdependence?
Dr. William Bronston: During the International Year of Disabled Persons, which was initiated by the United Nations to essentially spend a year addressing the importance of full integration and full meaningful roles for people with special needs in society. Ed and I connived to kind of build a campaign to organize high school kids all over the State of California with the State Department of Education in order to train them in career search, that is, shared careers, and in disability awareness, so that kids would learn that there was no such thing as disability, that essentially there were just differentnesses, and that in a creative society, people would support each other in order to have a level playing field.
So we began organizing an operation called Project Interdependence, where we took a hundred kids from all over the state, from ten different schools, ten kids from each of ten schools, half with labels and disabilities, half superstars and ingénues and football player leaders, and we put them into the wilderness for seven days and nights to train them in community organizing, disability awareness, and career search. And we picked out sports, arts, science, and recreation as the growth industries of California and began teaching the children -- young people -- about the lives that they could lead in each of those great pathways.
When you asked a kid what they want to be when they grow up, we wanted them to say, "I want to be in the sports industry. I want to be in the recreation industry. I want to be in the arts industry. I want to be in the science industry" 'cuz kids would have 20 or 30 or 40 jobs before they died. They didn't want to pick a job title – they wanted to pick a pathway. And we wanted to be able to show that kids with and without disabilities could open up and share those pathways and transform society in a way absolutely heretofore not available.
So we began to run these major programs and we had the Governor on our board and we had the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on our board, and Goldie Hawn and Stevie Wonder and Itzhak Perlman and key legislators and key educators...
And Ed would always be there. You know, we have incredible footage of him talking with the kids, and his relationship to the children was magical. It was unbelievable the impact that he had because the kids just hang on every word he would say. I mean, they saw this creature, this amazing different thing, in this big chair with joy and… and warmth and confidence.
It was... it changed them. It changed them. Kids, once they experienced Ed, it changed their lives. It changed the way they saw themselves. You know, the most extraordinary kids have a secret disability. Sometimes drives them to suicide, these kids that have high expectations, the superstars. So it didn't matter whether you were... obviously different or whether you felt different, Ed would talk about the meaning of how differentness was the catapult to excellence and extraordinary living.