Spreading the inspirational story of Waddie Welcome

A reader of Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community is first struck by the bold, strange cover. The photo depicts a hand-crafted collage of a phonebook, compiled over decades by Addie Reeves.

Ms. Reeves was a lifelong friend of Mr. Waddie Welcome, whose life and legacy have given hope to countless others who face ostracism and isolation from their communities because of developmental disabilities.

The phonebook on the cover becomes a metaphor for many things: for the independent spirit, for self-reliance, for reuse of what is normally thrown away — and for living with an awareness that the miraculous can be found in the everyday.

Born in 1914, Mr. Welcome spent the first part of his life as a member of his family and a member of his community. But later he would be isolated for years in a nursing home, including one far from Savannah.

In Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community, authors Tom Kohler and Susan Earl chronicle Mr. Welcome’s physical and spiritual journey as a group of loosely affiliated members of the broader Savannah community worked with Mr. Welcome to secure his return to Savannah — and to life with a family rather than in an institution.

Now, more than a decade after Mr. Welcome’s death, Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community is being read as part of a worldwide effort to mobilize communities around the causes inherent in Mr. Welcome’s story.

I am not going to try to retell the story here. There’s more about the book and recent efforts at http://www.waddiewelcome.com. This op-ed in the Savannah Morning News after her death in 2001 at age 100 contains more information about Ms. Reeves: Being thy brother’s keeper. This great post on Al Etmanski’s blog talks about Waddie Welcome as a crusader for civil rights in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Information about the Waddie Welcome Archive, a collection of photos of hand-painted signs from the neighborhood where Mr. Welcome grew up can be found here.

Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community was chosen for the campus-wide read for the 2010-2011 school year at Armstrong Atlantic State University, where I have taught for many years. It was incredible to see firsthand the ways in which the story opens students’ eyes to the injustices that are routine for many people with disabilities — and to see those same students commit themselves to change in whatever ways they can.