Q&A with Disability Justice Visionary Myrlaviani Perez-Rivier

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Myrlaviani is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

photo portrait of Myrlaviani

What is your vision for the future of our region?

I envision Disabled People of Color winning political positions, influencing decisions, and deepening our overall capacity as a community.

What is most exciting to you about Disability Justice?

Disability Justice demands, by way of compassion and caring communities, systems change, institutional reform, and a new notion of private and public market performance defined, owned, operated, and valued by community members most impacted. Disability Justice is all about creativity and innovation. It’s invigorating and demanding. It means you have to show up and demonstrate radical self-love and compassion, which are founded on standards of quality caring and intimate connection. We account for the complex strata of universal access, intersectionality of race, disability, gender, and religion with the never-ending and always-loved question of “What am I missing here, right now? Do we have what we need?” We are the road builders and bridge architects we need. I feel we are ready for Us.

What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

My goals include organizing a group of leaders holding conversations within and across urban-rural communities to discover and cultivate participants committed to policy and program change and implementation. Addressing current power dynamics will enhance collaboration across systems by way of generating ideas and building alternative solutions. Our community has the solutions and, through strategic partnerships, we can help lead and build the results we need.

For instance, this looks like rural and urban Oregon building relational bridges and, through a willingness to learn, adapt, and innovate, realizing opportunities for one another while addressing public problems. One which comes to mind is food deserts. We need effective policies whereby our Disabled community can readily access high-quality, nutritious food. There are solutions, but we need courage and support. At the same time, nothing happens without supportive housing, and who says passive-designed homes cannot also be designed within the universal design criteria? High-quality housing designed around collective access means building a new type of community—a community where people actively support one another. This is the vision I have of our reNew Oregon™—one where we support one another and build a meaningful future together. When enough of us make this decision, then we will see employment rates rising, especially for Disabled “People of Color.”

What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

I am committed to becoming a better transformational leader: identifying, cultivating, and promoting leadership and leadership development in Disability communities. I am keen on improving the employment rates of individuals with disabilities and recognize this will require not only policy change but also changes in awareness and attitudes on the part of families, businesses, and civic leaders.

What communities do you consider yourself a part of?

Disability foremost, and all else follows. I come from a multicultural background. I grew up dancing flamenco, listening to Tejano music, being friends with Latins from Central America to South America to Spain, marching with Chicano Agricultural Workers (Cesar Chavez), listening to my Mother’s stories of her ancestors and, on my Father’s side, learning about poverty and oppression, or how the Mexican-American wars impacted the trajectory of his family’s development. The cultural extremes from both families provided a rich and textured playground of possibilities from which my curiosity and drive still develop.

What leadership roles have you played?

I have participated in local advisory boards or commissions, as well as community engagement work across Disability lines, especially with “People of Color.” I also started a community restorative listening circle. I have been particularly enthusiastic in volunteering for positions that work towards criminal justice reform, racial justice, and disability justice, across government and community-based organizations.

What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

The book I’m enjoying the most right now compels me to wonder and enjoy breathing, reading, imagining impossibilities and living, again. It is Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Artists lead the way for social change and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is wonderfully and refreshingly uncompromising.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

When you love something or someone, including yourself, you make a stand, define your standards, live with integrity and a willingness to self-assess. With that in mind, I’m curious about what is important to my fellow Disabled community members. I want to know what satisfies and, equally, what leaves them with discontent within our current system. Further, what improvements are they willing to invest their talents, energy, and time in to create and operate? If you are interested in developing dialogue around these and other questions, please contact me through NWHF.