Brooklyn Attorney Helps Forgotten Victims of the Haitian Earthquake
By Michael Boyajian
America is not a perfect place but it is a generous country and there are many heroes here whose stories go untold. I would like to tell you about one hero in particular, Brooklyn attorney T.K. Small. T.K. has Muscular Dystrophy and spent a good portion of his early life in a children’s hospital in Westchester County. The plan there was that once he turned eighteen he would be sent to an out of state nursing home where he would be warehoused for the rest of his life.
Well T.K. says he had an awareness that many of his fellow patients did not have and connections to the mainstream world through hospital volunteers. So much so that he knew he did not want to spend his days in a nursing home where he would waste away and eventually die. T.K. wanted to go to college. So he was accepted into Hofstra University but at the last minute the school said that he could not live in the dorms because they considered him on life support due to the fact that he had a medical device on his back.
Well many people told T.K. to sue the school. But he said no, if they don’t want me I don’t want them. And that is T.K.’s approach to life, he doesn’t want pity he doesn’t say I have lived a terrible life; he just wants an opportunity to live a fulfilling life. So in the end T.K. attended SUNY Farmingdale and from there he went To SUNY Albany eventually graduating from Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. Along the way he was able to experience what most students experience from their college days.
After graduation he enrolled in Brooklyn Law School. That is where we first met. I can tell you many stories about T.K.’s heroic efforts in law school but let me just mention one involving the most difficult period of a law student’s career, studying for the New York Bar Exam. While the rest of us spent weeks in review lectures taking copious notes T.K. attended the same lectures committing the body of New York law directly to memory without the benefit of note taking. He passed the strenuous New York Bar on the first try.
Rather than make the big bucks as a corporate attorney T.K. choose to help those in need. He is famous in Brooklyn for helping to get wheelchair lifts installed on MTA buses. He did this with some friends also in wheelchairs who blocked one downtown Brooklyn street in the 1990s with their chairs bringing rush hour traffic to a grinding halt. Soon after lifts were installed on MTA buses.
Now T.K. is helping to steer people to an aid group called Portlight Strategies, Inc. (www.portlight.org) whose mission is to meet the specific needs of the under served, un-served and forgotten people. There is more to the Haitian earthquake story than what is being told on the news. There is the story of the forgotten victims of the quake, the disabled. T.K. is working as a community organizer in the same way that got Barrack Obama elected president to bring aid to the forgotten disabled of the poorest of poor nations. He is gathering support from the disabled community and steering them to Portlight. This is a community that most of whom lives on public assistance with approximately 70% unemployment yet finds time and money and supplies to help those in need in Haiti. You think its bad being in Haiti after the quake, imagine being disabled under those same chaotic conditions and you can appreciate what T.K. and the disabled community is doing to help out.
The infrastructure for the Haiti effort grew out of the Katrina nightmare where none of the trailer homes supplied by FEMA were accessible to the disabled. The disabled of New Orleans were left to die for the most part in their homes and hospitals. The disabled community vowed never to allow this happen ever again.
T.K. will never say that he has lived an unhappy life nor does he seek pity or gratuitous appreciation but for the thanks he receives from a client he has helped. But his patience is tried at times. Many times when he has tried to get on a bus people on board will not get out of his way or tell him he shouldn’t be there, he should be out of sight somewhere else. Rather than get angry T.K. calmly tells them about Rosa Parks and how he is willing to get on in the back of the bus but he will nonetheless get on the bus. In other instances though people will tell him that he is a miracle and heroic and that is the contrasts T.K. lives with in his most fulfilling of lives.