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Laura Hershey - at Great Wall of China
Laura Hershey at the Great Wall of China - attending the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995

Laura Hershey is a writer, poet and activist. She has been involved in grass-roots organizing around issues like disabled women's leadership opportunities, in-home attendant services, criticizing the Jerry Lewis Telethon, opposition to assisted suicide, and lesbian/gay rights. Her writing often reflects both her activism, and her identity as a proud disabled woman.

Below is one of Hershey's poems, called "You Get Proud by Practicing." After the reading, there are some questions to help you think about poetry, pride, and disability culture.


If you are not proud
for who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
if every time you stop
to think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
with golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can
get proud.

You do not need
a better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
to be proud.
You do not need
a lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
to be able to walk, or see, or hear,
or use big, complicated words,
or do any of the things that you just can't do
to be proud. A caseworker
cannot make you proud,
or a doctor.
You only need
more practice.
You get proud
by practicing.

There are many many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
or playing guitar,
and do well or not so well,
and be glad you tried
either way.
You can show
something you've made
to someone you respect
and be happy with it no matter
what they say.
You can say
what you think, though you know
other people do not think the same way, and you can
keep saying it, even if they tell you
you are crazy.
You can add your voice
all night to the voices
of a hundred and fifty others
in a circle
around a jailhouse
where your brothers and sisters are being held
for blocking buses with no lift,
or you can be one of the ones
inside the jailhouse,
knowing of the circle outside.
You can speak your love
to a friend
without fear.
You can find someone
who will listen to you
without judging you or doubting you or being
afraid of you and let you hear yourself perhaps
for the first time.
These are all ways
of getting proud.
None of them
are easy, but all of them
are possible. You can do all of these things,
or just one of them again and again.
You get proud
by practicing.

Power makes you proud, and power
comes in many fine forms
supple and rich as butterfly wings.
It is music
when you practice opening your mouth
and liking what you hear
because it is the sound of your own
true voice.
It is sunlight
when you practice seeing
strength and beauty in everyone
including yourself.
It is dance
when you practice knowing
that what you do
and the way you do it
is the right way for you
and can't be called wrong.
All these hold
more power than weapons or money
or lies.
All these practices bring power, and power
makes you proud.
You get proud
by practicing.

Remember, you weren't the one
who made you ashamed,
but you are the one
who can make you proud.
Just practice,
practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
keep practicing so you won't forget.
You get proud
by practicing.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are some of the different ways that the words "pride" and "proud" can be defined and used? How does Hershey define and use these words in her poem?
  • Which parts of the poem seem to address the experience of disability directly? Which parts of the poem seem to be relevant to anyone, with or without a disability?
  • What does Hershey mean by these lines? -- "Remember, you weren't the one / who made you ashamed, / but you are the one / who can make you proud."
  • Based on the kind of "pride" expressed in this poem, how often do you feel proud?
  • What are some of the ways that you "practice being proud"? Consider writing a poem of your own!

Crip Commentary -- Laura Hershey's poems, columns, articles and art

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