Amistad tells the story of a pre-Civil War legal battle involving a group of kidnapped Africans who escaped their chains and took over a slave ship before being recaptured.
An hour into the movie there’s a wonderful exchange between abolitionist and former slave Theodore Joadson (played by Morgan Freeman) and retired US President John Quincy Adams (played by dyslexic actor Anthony Hopkins). Joadson has traveled to Adams’ home to ask him for advice on handling the case.
Joadson is perplexed, and doesn’t see the point of the question. “Why,” he eventually says, “they’re from West Africa…”
“No!” Adams responds, shaking his head. “What is their story?”
Joadson, confused, remains silent.
“Mr. Joadson,” Adams says gently, “you’re from where, originally?”
Adams nods and smiles. “Does that pretty much sum up what you are? A Georgian? Is that your story?” He shakes his head. “No! You’re an ex-slave who’s devoted his life to the abolition of slavery, and overcoming great obstacles and hardships along the way, I should imagine. That’s your story, isn’t it?”
Joadson slowly smiles as Adams’ point gets through.
Adams continues: “You’ve proven you know what they are: they’re Africans. What you don’t know, and as far as I can tell haven’t bothered in the least to discover, is who they are.”
What Is Our Story?
Adams’ lesson is a great reminder for all of us who are trying to advocate on behalf of those with dyslexia. If we focus only on the ‘what’ about dyslexia and fail to portray the ‘who’, we’ll continue to struggle in the ‘court of public opinion’.
The ‘winning case’ about dyslexia isn’t just a story of technical issues involving reading and spelling. It’s a story about the one in six of us who have incredible potential, but whose dreams, self-confidence, and chances for success are being systematically destroyed by the lack of an appropriate education. More hopefully, it’s a story about the chance to help dyslexic students unleash their talents, achieve their goals, enrich our society, and live creative, fulfilled lives.
Many of you have already learned how to tell your stories, and later this week we’ll post some of the stories you included on the over 5500 letters you sent to your Senators through our letter drive last week.
The more we all continue to share such stories, the closer we’ll move to finally winning this case.